August 30, 2016

ASPCA Responders Help People and Pets in the Wake of Louisiana Floods

ASPCA Responder Bruce Earnest
ASPCA Responder Bruce Earnest

It’s unusual for the ASPCA, with its history of rescuing animals, to be called upon to rescue people.

But following recent heavy rains and flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and multiple surrounding parishes—the worst natural disaster to strike the U.S. since Hurricane Sandy in 2012—that’s exactly what happened.

Sara Deen, a volunteer for the Louisiana State Animal Response Team (LSART), had intended to rescue livestock and other animal victims until flooding took a turn for the worse on August 13 and she became trapped in her Baton Rouge home.

In an ironic twist, she found herself and her dogs in dire need of rescue the very next day.

Sara contacted LSART to let them know her power was out, and her ranch-style house an island surrounded by a moat of rising water.

Flooding—Sara’s House
Flooding—Sara’s House. Photo courtesy of Sara Deen.

Dick Green, the ASPCA’s Senior Director of Disaster Response, had just arrived in Baton Rouge to begin water rescues for animals. He immediately swapped out his tennis shoes for flood gear, and along with Hilton Cole, Director of Animal Control in East Baton Rouge, found a 14-foot john boat not yet in service and headed to Sara’s neighborhood.

“It looked a bit like New Orleans did 11 years ago when Hurricane Katrina came through, with people on rooftops and the National Guard rescuing people and pets,” explained Dick. 

Although Sara owns a kayak, she had been housing a friend whose own home was destroyed, and between the two of them they were caring for four large dogs—two of them elderly and one of them blind—which made evacuating in a kayak impossible.  

After Sara’s rescue, Dick and the ASPCA’s team, which included Kat Destreza and Bruce Earnest, continued responding to calls in the parishes of East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Ascension.

Left, Dick Green on a house call. Right, pulling a john boat.
Left, Dick Green on a house call. Right, pulling a john boat. Photo courtesy of Sara Deen.

Temporary shelters for animals have since been established by volunteers from LSART, as well as veterinarians from the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine and the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association at the Baton Rouge River Center and Celtic Studios in Baton Rouge and the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, Louisiana. Nearly 1,200 evacuated animals—some rescued and others dropped off for boarding by owners—remain at Lamar-Dixon. For more information, please visit LSART.org.

Despite having to evacuate her own home, Sara spent part of the week responding to calls before going back to her full-time job as a sales rep. “Since I couldn't do anything about my house, I thought I'd try to help others,” she said. 

Though Sara’s home was one of three in her neighborhood that were actually spared, she recalled 60 others that were destroyed. For two days she stayed with a friend. 

Flooding—Sara’s neighborhood.
Flooding—Sara’s neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Sara Deen.

To Sara, being rescued instead of being a rescuer was a “funny feeling.”

"I've always been the responder,” she says, recalling hurricanes, oil spills and other disasters that have marked her career.

For the ASPCA’s Dick Green, the Louisiana flooding left him in a reflective state of mind as well. 

“So many things went through my head,” he said. “As of this week 11 years ago, I was responding to Hurricane Katrina in this exact same spot. It’s kind of eerie to come back for another operation in the same place where such a historic event took place.”

Dick pointed out the positive differences the decade has made. “Back then, we had no support, but today we have so much support at the parish, state, national and federal levels.”

Dick was referring to the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act of 2006, intended to ensure that state and local emergency preparedness operations address the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals following a major disaster or emergency.

“Because of that it’s a completely different world,” he said.