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Losing pets increases turmoil for evacuees

By Associated Press
Published September 4, 2005

ATLANTA - As Valerie Bennett was evacuated from a New Orleans hospital, rescuers told her there was no room in the boat for her dogs.

She pleaded. "I offered him my wedding ring and my mom's wedding ring," the 34-year-old nurse said Saturday.

They wouldn't budge. She and her husband could bring only one item, and they already had a plastic tub containing the medicines her husband, a liver transplant recipient, needed to survive.

Such emotional scenes were repeated along the Gulf Coast last week as pet owners were forced to abandon their animals in the midst of evacuation.

In one example, a police officer took a dog from one little boy waiting to get on a bus in New Orleans. "Snowball! Snowball!" the boy cried until he vomited. The policeman said he didn't know what would happen to the dog.

The fate of pets is another cause of anguish for storm survivors, said Richard Garfield, professor of clinical nursing at New York's Columbia University.

"People in shelters are worried about "Did Fluffy get out?' " he said. "It's very distressing for people, wondering if their pets are isolated or starving."

Louisiana State Treasurer John Kennedy, who was helping with relief efforts Saturday, said some evacuees refused to leave without their pets.

"One woman told me "I've lost my house, my job, my car and I am not turning my dog loose to starve,' " Kennedy said.

The SPCA picked up two cats and 15 dogs, including one that Kennedy found tied up far underneath the overpass next to an unopened can of dog food with a sign that read "Please take care of my dog, his name is Chucky".

Valerie Bennett left her dogs with an anesthesiologist who was taking care of about 30 staff members' pets on the roof of the hospital, Lindy Boggs Medical Center.

"He said he'd stay there as long as he possibly could," Valerie Bennett said from her husband Lorne's bedside at Atlanta's Emory University Hospital.

The Bennetts had four animals, including two dogs - an English springer spaniel, Oreo, and a miniature dachshund, Lady.

On Saturday, as Hurricane Katrina approached, both went to the hospital to help and took all four animals with them.

Patients were evacuated starting Monday. On Wednesday night, the Bennetts were told they had to go, too.

They fed their guinea pig and left it in its cage in a patient room. They couldn't refill its empty water bottle because the hospital's plumbing failed Sunday, they said. They poured food on the floor for the cat, but again no water.

"I just hope that they forgive me," Valerie Bennett said.

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