The physical and emotional devastation of Hurricane Sandy hits too close to home. Seven years ago, Hurricane Katrina flooded our New Orleans neighborhood and changed my family’s life forever.
I can relate to the shock and the pain and the fear that Sandy’s victims are feeling right now. I can also tell you that a donation to the Red Cross or any other charity, while helpful, is not as powerful as making an individual, human connection. If you’re an animal lover, you already understand what I’m about to say.
When we were finally allowed to enter our house nearly one month after Katrina, part of me didn’t want to go. Maybe if we didn’t look with our own eyes, all those images on TV would remain abstract. Our pink and white raised bungalow would look exactly the way we left it – dry and safe. Our dogs would greet us at the door, tails wagging. The cats would blink sleepy hellos from their warm perches.
Instead, our beautiful home had been submerged in up to eight feet of brackish water for three weeks. Elderly neighbors were found drowned. Friends had evacuated to destinations unknown. Our four dogs and two cats were temporarily living with my parents in a Chicago suburb. Life had become strange and tenuous.
Upon realizing that our evacuation had changed into long-term refuge, my mother-in-law said, “ Good thing you don’t have any kids.” I knew what she meant. Being a practical person, she was thinking in terms of finding housing, transportation, schools and babysitters while juggling insurance and FEMA phone calls, not to mention work if you still had a job. What a nightmare for any parent.
Even so, my pets are family. They had basic needs, too, such as being fed, sheltered, feeling safe and loved. Family and friends had donated clothing and personal items to us, but dog lovers in particular understood that our animals’ needs outweighed our own. One incredibly generous woman insisted we meet her at PetsMart and she bought our pets $250 worth of food, treats, collars, leashes, bowls, and toys.
During our many salvage trips back to New Orleans, a team of volunteers I had met online helped walk and exercise the dogs since my parents were limited physically. Clean Run, an agility magazine, mailed us a care package filled with treats, toys, and training items, plus shirts and coats for the humans. Therapy Dogs International sent us a check in honor of our Therapy Dog Desoto’s service.
The animal lovers totally got it. Our pets’ well being affected our own mental health. Desoto, Shelby, Darby, Jolie, Cricket and Bruiser did not understand why their lives had changed in every possible way, but thanks to human kindness, they were well cared for and loved. The people who helped us most were the ones who recognized that it was the little things that mattered, like taking our dogs for a walk. Or the stranger who found me crying on the porch steps of my rotted house, feeling so alone, and gave me a strong hug.
Dog lovers, you of all people understand the value of physical touch and the power of connecting with another being. Please reach out to an individual Hurricane Sandy victim and give them something to hold onto.