International Fund For Animal Welfare (IFAW) helped rescue, care and transport 7,000 animals following Hurricane Katrina.
Ten years ago I was leading IFAW's animal rescue efforts when Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
I should be able to quote endless statistics about the number of animals affected and the thousands of victims IFAW helped rescue. I should be able to explain exactly what happened, who was there, and what we did on each of those fateful days.
Yet I can't.
For me, like everyone who was there, the days and weeks after Hurricane Katrina are an adrenaline fueled blur of tragedies and small triumphs.
- I remember the gut-wrenching calls from boat crews who were just outside the city and ready to respond, but were held back because "animal rescuers" were not considered essential.
- I remember the glow from a long line of rescue vehicles waiting to unload hundreds of emaciated, exhausted animals each evening.
- I remember the heat. The chaos. The confusion.
- The relief each time a truckload of rescued animals left for new homes.
And most of all, I remember one woman who changed my perspective forever.
She had lost everything in the flood. No home. No clothes. No way to shelter and feed her animals.
When I told her IFAW could help, her eyes brightened and I saw the first hint of a smile begin to emerge. I smiled back. After all, I was leading an extraordinary IFAW team.
Of course I could help.
And then, just as quickly, her eyes darkened. She locked onto me with a gaze that somehow conveyed how remarkably strong, and yet how close to the breaking point she truly was.