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The Katrina Animal Victims-3 months later

It is far from over.

By Jo Helms

December 17, 2005



It is hard to believe that it has been 3 months since we watched on television as Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast, leaving behind a mere shell of what had once been.  Then we watched as Rita slammed the Gulf Coast a short time afterwards causing more damage to an already ravaged coast line. Our hearts went out to all those who lost their homes, family members, worldly possessions and their pets. Rebuilding the lives of the victims will take a very long time. No one knows how long but we do know it will never be quite the same.  The scars will remain although the people are strong and are attempting to return to what was once, their normal day to day life.  But what about the animals that remained behind.  Will it ever be over for them?  Will their lives ever be returned to normal?  How many are still there?  What is being done to help them or find them?  As the media moves on to other more prominent and current stories, the emphasis on the animals still fighting for survival in the most devastated and uninhabitable areas of Louisiana and Mississippi seems to be losing its importance in the eyes of many.  Most people are under the assumption that all the animals have been rescued and that life goes on as normal once again.  However, contrary to what we would all like to think, the efforts to rescue animals which are still running the streets throughout the region continues.  Many of them are sick, injured or suffering from malnutrition.  The headlines have changed, the media has moved on, but their situation has not and the desperate effort to help them goes on. The remaining rescue personnel, who stayed after others pulled out, continue their efforts, relentlessly searching for those animals that remain elusive.  The longer these animals are loose, the more difficult it becomes to capture them.  Many of these animals are unaltered which means that now there are puppies and kittens added to this scenario. They have been on their own for a long time and in some cases have become extremely wary and untrusting of humans.  There have been instances where these animals have been shot at by people, some killed by sick individuals sheltered for their owners.  One such instance was in a school where every animal in every cage was shot to death.  This was absolutely the worst imaginable for rescuers and pet owners alike.  Some sick person, or persons, cold bloodedly shot them as they stood there waiting for their owners to come and get them.  Totally unable to run or escape.  These animals had survived what most of us can’t even begin to imagine in our worst nightmares only to be gunned down in cold blood. I truly hope they find the people responsible for this however I doubt very strongly that any punishment will be administered to them.

Those still running free are scared and reluctant to be caught even after being tempted with food.  Some have become extremely cunning and manage to steal the food and elude capture.  I continue to receive updates about the ongoing efforts, the frustration, the sadness, and the joy-felt victories when one is finally captured.  Shelters are still overflowing with animals waiting to be claimed or to be placed in loving homes so they can get back to some normalcy of life.  Many have experienced a condition that we have all heard of but never thought could affect an animal and that is “Post Traumatic Shock Syndrome”.  The symptoms are similar, disturbed sleep patterns, restlessness, neurotic behavior, self-mutilation, pacing, shaking.  One can only imagine what runs through their minds when they close their eyes to rest.  Others suffer the lasting affects of the toxins they ingested either in the water or contaminated food while they awaited rescue.  You can see it in their eyes too.  It wasn’t just the people who experienced this awful disaster, it was felt by so many animal companions that were forced to stay behind and endure what Katrina and Rita had to throw at them.  Alone, and left behind to experience the fury of these devastating storms without the security and reassurance of their beloved owners, during their most terrified moments.  We all saw the heartbreaking photos of these pets standing on roof tops, leaning out of windows, pacing back and forth on pieces of debris that were floating.  Clinging to, what were once, porches to keep from drowning.  Some paddled for hours, over days and weeks waiting for someone to help them.  Searching for food, eating what they could find to sustain their very existence, much of which was severely contaminated with toxic agents. Watching boats go past with anticipation that someone was there to help them.  Some even jumping into contaminated waters attempting to swim to the boats and get to safety.  Thanks to all the wonderful rescue groups that high-tailed it down to the disaster areas, temporary shelters were constructed that would house those rescued from homes.  They went door to door in boats, looking, calling out, listening and watching for any sign of life from those left behind who survived.  Many people called animal organizations such as Noah’s Wish,, Best Friends, and so many others, searching for news about their pets. was instrumental in setting up a tag line site where people could enter information about their missing pets and search to see if there pet had been picked up and was safe in a shelter.  It was a mass effort for thousands of animals needing immediate and urgent rescue and veterinary care and the teams did their very best to help them.  Some people had marked their doors as they left to indicate that a pet was inside, others tied their pets to porches, hoping that someone would rescue them, if they survived.  Best estimates at this point project that there are still thousands of animals running loose in these regions and there will be another mass rescue effort made headed up by Best Friends and a coalition of rescue organizations over an estimated two month period.  I have no doubt that some of these animals have been traumatized beyond what all the love in the world can “fix” but so many of us who love animals and want ALL of them to be safe again feel that the attempt has to be made.  I refer to the latest information on the Best Friends web site who has announced this all out effort to rescue the remaining animals.  Please go to for more details. There have been many letters and petitions that have been borne from this tragedy that will hopefully change the future for all animals when an evacuation is necessary.  Pet owners all over the world agree that it is unfair to be forced to leave their pets behind and that there needs to be legislation enacted that will also protect them as well so we don’t have to see video footage of animals left behind to die a horrible death simply because shelters will not accommodate them.  We all remember the photo taken of the little white dog being torn from the arms of a loving little boy.  “Snowball”, a tiny white bundle of fur that meant the world and all to a little boy and his family who were basically losing everything that they could remotely call “home”, and now their family pet whom they adored was taken away to an unknown place.  Pets these days are family members too and the emotional attachment and love for them is deep.  I can fully understand why so many refused to leave without their pets.  For many, their pet was all they had in life.  It is my hope, and certainly the hope of all animal lovers, that new legislation is passed that will insure their safety too.  This Christmas Season, please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.  If you can, visit your local animal shelter and ask what you can do to help.  Many of the shelters all over the U.S. have taken in Katrina and Rita animals and are working very hard to locate their owners or place them in loving homes.  We were in Topeka, KS recently for the Siberian Husky Nationals and we were fortunate enough to be able to see one very special Katrina survivor named, “Lola”.  Her family was in the process of evacuating from their home in Louisiana and had let their two dogs outside to relieve themselves before they left.  Someone had left the gate open and true to Lola’s Siberian nature, she bolted and was gone in an instant.  They searched for as long as they could for her before being told to leave.  Sadly, they had no choice and had to leave without her.  A group of volunteers from Wisconsin found her and brought her back with them.  Lois from Adopt-a-Husky called the phone number on the tag but there was no luck.  She was able to track down the Vet’s office who gave her an emergency number to call for her owners.  When the woman answered the phone and Lois told her that Lola was alive and safe in Wisconsin, they could hardly believe it.  Lola came to Nationals to walk the Parade of Rescues and all of us in attendance had tears of happiness seeing her prance around the ring.  She was on her way home to her loving and anxiously awaiting family.  A transport was arranged to take her back to them.  This was just one of the many who have successfully been reunited with their families and each one is a victory over tragedy.  Sadly, there are those animals whose owners did not survive or have as yet been unable to locate their pets and those are the ones currently that need help.  If you unable to home one of these displaced pets don’t think that you can not help.  Perhaps you can help by sponsoring a foster home that is already caring for a homeless animal or donating blankets or a new toy.  Many of these animals need ongoing veterinary care for illnesses or injuries sustained during the storms. These can be costly and every little bit helps.  Check it out.  Volunteer and see the love and thanks in their eyes.  They have been through so much.

  These are hard times for many people indeed but it is the animals that are forgotten after the cameras and film crews leave and their stories are no longer headline news.  I ask each and every one of you reading this article to reach into your hearts and help in any way you can.  One day, it could be any of us in this situation and our pet’s lives could be hanging on the generosity and kindness of others.  These animals are truly survivors!!

And lastly, let’s not forget that many of these already overflowing shelters are still taking in strays and unwanted animals from their own areas as well and those animals also need homes.  Lend a heart, a hand and feel the love you receive in return.


We just returned from the Siberian Husky Nationals in Topeka, KS and on the way home we were almost killed by a semi who changed lanes without looking!!!  Our car was destroyed and yet we got out alive.  My upcoming articles will address the issue of big rigs, over-worked truckers, highway dangers and keeping your pet safe while traveling.   We did NOT have any of our furkids with us, thankfully, but our car is totaled and it was NOT our fault.  The driver of the semi was cited but we could have been killed.  I will address several issues: cell phones, eating, brushing teeth, applying make-up, reading maps and newspapers while operating a motor vehicle. 


Victims of the highway

Written by Jo Helms

November 19, 2005


I am going to share with you the viewpoint of an innocent victim of an accident on I-90.  It happened to us on the way home from Topeka, KS recently.  This story is both frightening and haunting but it is also very important because innocent people are killed every day on our highways as a result of the actions of someone else not paying attention to their driving.  It is a reminder to all of us to pay attention to the task of driving.  Along with a driver’s license comes the responsibility of safe and attentive driving practices and being accountable for your actions.  The lives that you affect by not paying attention and being irresponsible can be changed forever. This is what it is like to be the innocent victim.


On October 30, 2005 we were returning home after attending the Siberian Husky National Specialty in Topeka, KS.  We left early in the morning from Rockford, IL where we had stayed the night before, and were looking forward to getting home in a couple of hours.  It had been a fun trip and we enjoyed seeing friends that we had not seen for a long time.  We were outside of Madison traveling north on I-90 when suddenly we were struck in the left rear quarter-panel by a semi.  At first, we didn’t know what hit us.  We exchanged a fast glance at one another.  My husband only had time to say, “What the” before we spun around the front of the semi that had hit us and were struck again, this time shattering the left side windows which imploded and covered us in glass, as the truck continued to push us sideways down the highway.  As I turned my head to the left, I remember vividly seeing the front end of that truck inches away from my husband’s head.  He, of course, was watching where we were headed.  We were in a flat skid sideways and being propelled by the semi.  Then we continued to spin a 360 degree circle across the other lanes of traffic. I remember seeing the cars dancing wildly trying to avoid hitting us and then we slammed into the concrete retaining wall that divides the highway.  I continue to re-live in my mind those horrible sounds of tires screeching that seems endless, glass shattering in slow motion, the piercing sounds of metal tearing...all echo in my mind.  Spinning, seeing cars narrowly missing us and a concrete wall coming at us at 65+ mph.   So many thoughts crossed my mind in a matter of seconds as death stared us in the face. The feelings of deep sadness thinking we were leaving our fur-kids behind to live on without us, not seeing them again or being able to say good-bye or tell them one more time how much we love them,  but finding comfort knowing that they would be taken care of and loved for their remaining life here.  Who could explain to them what happened and why we never came back home after promising them we would see them in a few days as we left our home to journey to Topeka.  How could anyone explain to them that it was not that we wanted to leave them.  Would they think that we had abandoned them?  What about our families and our friends?  Their sadness with the news of our deaths.  The concrete wall was coming up so fast !  Would we die quickly?  Oh please God!  Make it quick!!  Is our work here done??  Please God, take care of our fur-kids, families and our friends.  The wall is getting closer and closer now.  Was this how we were meant to die?  It seemed so unfair, we weren’t doing anything wrong!!  How could this be happening to us?  I thought of my life and what I had contributed to this world through my book, my deep love and all my efforts to help companion animals and rescues, our friendships, and the work that we had done for cancer pets.  I thought of the many things that I had hoped to yet accomplish.  We were going to hit that wall head-on and would most likely be killed instantly.  Who would carry on our work?  I began to reconcile myself to the fact that it would soon be over and that we would soon be with our sweet fur-love Grizz once more.  I sat back and braced for the impact as my life passed before my eyes. My husband’s quick thinking saved our lives. Of that, I have no doubt.  His years of driving stock cars kept him calm during what seemed to me to be our last moments upon this earth. Somehow he managed to turn the front wheels just enough so that we hit the wall at an angle with the left front corner of the car, instead of head-on. The impact with that concrete wall was still unbelievable. Then came a deafening silence accompanied by the horrible fear that someone was going to hit us again after we thought it was finally over.  A fleeting moment when you are not certain whether you have actually survived it or if you have already crossed over and you wonder if the peace and quiet is because you have already stepped across and left the horrors behind.  The sound of sirens, distant at first but becoming so loud as they approach.  You realize that they are there for YOU.   Bewilderment and panic while checking to be sure that no one is seriously injured.  And finally, as your body begins to shake uncontrollably in the aftermath, you realize that you are ALIVE.  Battered, cut and bruised....but alive!  Trying to think clearly is next to impossible.  Emergency responders arrive.  You offer prayers of thanks as emergency personnel surround you, trying to assess your injuries and give comfort as you continue to shake, with weak knees, and you try to remain standing.  Amazingly, we did not require the ambulance that had also been dispatched and it returned to its base.  The officers from the State Patrol and emergency personnel from the Madison Fire Department stood in awe, thoroughly shocked that we were standing, and not killed.  The call they had received from their dispatcher warned them to expect “probable fatalities”.  We seemed to be okay.  How?  God only knows.  I later told the state patrolman that I have been an emergency responder for several years and it felt really strange being on the receiving end.  He said how much they respect the emergency responders and appreciate their help in situations.  .A couple of people had stopped to render assistance to us and then left but I will always remember the two sweet gentlemen driving a Dodge Durango who pulled over right in front of where we finally came to rest.  They called for help and ran to our car to see if we were alright.  I was attempting to call 911 from my cell phone myself but in the confusion forgot to hit “send”.  They had witnessed the accident as they were right behind us.  They saw the semi turn right into us and could not believe what they were seeing unfold before their eyes. Thankfully, they were very glad to give a statement to the police.  Bless them!!!  My husband filled out the accident report while remarking to the state trooper that he was a “little frazzled”.  I was more than just a little frazzled, let me tell you.  I don’t’ know that I could have done what he did to pull us out of a head-on collision and I commend him and I praise him.  I had my camera with me in the front seat and something told me to take pictures at the scene.  Good thing, as these would be used as evidence later!!  Our insurance company and our attorney were grateful.  I even remarked that I had received an award from the International Society of Photography for my work and that  it paid off.  One thing I strongly recommend to anyone is to buy a disposable camera and keep it in your glove box.  The pictures that I took were the ONLY ones taken.  As they loaded up what was once our car unto a flatbed, the realization hit us that we had no means to get home.  Our car was going nowhere.  We had things that could not be left in a storage yard, even if it was secured.   The cases of my book , “Grizz's Story”, our cashbox containing money from the sales of my book during Nationals, which will be donated to help companion animal cancer research, my brand new laptop computer, our luggage and an adorable stuffed husky holding a stuffed puppy that I had purchased from Cheryl at the Save Our Siberian booth, only 2 days before.  Everything, including us, had been thrown around inside the car and most of it was lying in disarray amid splintered glass. What to do next??  We had to find a car to get home.  We rode with our car to the storage yard where it was to remain.  That car contained many memories for us.  It was the car that Grizz rode in all during his cancer treatments.  So many times we felt his presence with us when we were traveling.  Our own guardian angel, if you will.  Seeing our car sitting there amidst the many other cars that had paid an equally, if not higher price, was heartbreaking to me.  I know in my heart that Grizz will be with us no matter where we are or what we are driving but it still broke my heart. Next, we had to find a rental car.  It was so painful!  Finding a rental car on a Sunday is a nightmare unto itself.  The numerous phone calls and trying to get a ride to one of the few rental places that are open for business on a Sunday, in our case out at the airport in Madison was frustrating.  While explaining that our car was destroyed, no one would offer to come and pick us up to rent one of their cars.  What did they want us to do, walk??  The kindness of the man who drove the flatbed containing what was left of our car and who later gave us a ride to the rental agency will never be forgotten.  After going through all the paperwork involved we had a rental.  We returned to the storage yard and unloaded everything from our car into the rental car,  after brushing off the shards of glass that blanketed everything.  The long drive home, having to drive right past the accident scene again, and the goose-bumps at seeing the frightening skid marks that we knew were our own along with the very visible impact marks on the concrete wall where we had hit nearly head-on only hours before, was un-nerving at best.  I give my husband a great deal of credit.  It had to be incredibly difficult to get back behind the wheel after what had happened to us, let alone drive right past the spot where we had almost been killed.  At last, about 2 hours later, we arrived home where we were greeted with wonderful doggie kisses, wagging tails and vocalized contentment of our delayed but blessed and welcome arrival home finally gave us some peace.  It was later that we informed our families of what had happened.  They were so grateful.  What had started as a beautiful day had turned into a nightmare but at least we were home again.  That nightmare was only beginning.  In the days that followed came the battle with the insurance companies.  Guess what?  Your insurance company is NOT your best friend!!   Also, we were informed that the man that hit us, and received a citation at the scene, never reported the accident to his employer or to their insurance carrier. Why not??  We suspect that perhaps he has something to hide. It is mandatory according to the Federal Motor Carrier regulations that any driver involved in an accident and cited is to be drug and alcohol tested immediately.  That is the responsibility of the employer.  Being that he didn't report it, no drug test was done and too much time has passed.  This was not only irresponsible but against the Federal Motor Carrier’s regulations under which he and his company are bound.  I am pursuing that!!   I have no sympathy for him as he deliberately and knowingly violated federal regulations and he needs to be held accountable for his actions.  It was his birthday that ironic.  Was he celebrating prior to the accident?  Does he have a previous record?  What did he have to lose by reporting the accident?  Sadly, we will never know.  One thing that I am going to pursue is a proposal making it mandatory that the police department be required to notify an employer at the time a citation is issued involving any commercial driver to maintain compliance with FMC regulations.  It will not only help companies to keep a closer eye on their drivers but it will hold drivers accountable for their actions while protecting innocent victims.  The vehicle that hit us was rated at 72,000 pounds, hardly a fair match against a 3,000 pound passenger car.  This man's employer was stunned when they received a phone call from our attorney 2 weeks after the accident inquiring as to the status of the claim and why there had been no contact by them to settle.  So we are now, right back where we started on Oct. 30th, and are left with trying to find a car to replace the one we had.  We had no intentions of getting rid of our car but now the choice is not ours to make.  Some irresponsible commercial truck driver took that choice away from us and we are left to fend for ourselves. He is still out there driving as far as we know.  About 15 minutes after the accident occurred he walked down by us and asked if we were alright. He popped his butt up unto the retaining wall as if it was a Sunday picnic and casually stated, “Gosh, sorry about that..I didn’t see you.”   Didn’t see us?  We were in front of him, how could he not see us?  Where was he looking?  What took him so long to pull over and see if we were even still alive?  Was he possibly contemplating the idea of NOT stopping at all?   What was he doing all that while before he came to check on us?  He quite obviously was NOT notifying his company that he had hit us as he should have done.  Which leads me to question how safe our highways really are....even in the morning.  Our accident occurred at 8:30 A.M.  This truck driver was cited for "improper lane deviation and inattentive driving" but, was he talking on a cell phone, had he been driving all night and did he start to fall asleep, had he been drinking or using drugs?  Why did it take him so long to stop?   These questions will always remain unanswered for us. 

For myself, these memories and unanswered questions are haunting and bring a feeling of fear every time someone gets close to us on the highway...the rapid pulse and tensed muscles.....with approaching vehicles on the side of us.  My senses remain keen and on constant alert.  Yes, I am still uneasy and will be for a long time to come. I find myself alerting my husband each time there is a car/semi on either side of us. His patience and understanding is limitless as he says, "Thanks honey, I know...we're okay.."   I thank God everyday that we did not have our dogs with us.  It was a last minute decision not to take our Siberian, Kodi, with us.  We had discussed taking him with us next year to Rockford, IL where the Nationals will be held.  That was prior to the accident.  I received an email from a fellow writer who herself was almost killed on her way home from a dog show.  She had 3 of her dogs with her in her recreation vehicle.  She too was the victim of someone else’s actions.  To hear her tell her story brings shivers to my spine.  Her accident was much worse but I can picture vividly in my mind what she experienced as she was struck by a car that was out of control and pushed off the road into a ditch only to have momentum carry them back across the highway into the concrete wall where she flipped over and was struck again.  Her pleading and heartfelt apologies to her dogs as they all headed towards what she felt would be their death.  Incredibly and by the grace of God, they all survived.  How?  God only knows but we are so happy to know that she and her furry loves are okay.  We are still uncertain about taking Kodi with us next year to the Nationals in Rockford, IL but we will see what the future brings.  Something I have noticed these days is that people seem to be in such a rush these days, oblivious to weather conditions, or heavy traffic, and courtesy while driving seems to be a thing of the past.  Cell phones and other distractions need to be controlled and drivers need to be held accountable for their actions when they kill, injure or cripple someone because of inappropriate and unsafe driving practices.  It isn’t always what you, yourself do as a driver, but instead it is often times what someone else does, in other words “The other guy” , and your ability to react to any given situation to avoid becoming a “Victim of the Highway”. 

In closing, I thank God that our mission here is not done because, as you can see, I have articles yet to write and we have animals yet to help.  Please come back for my next article about traveling with pets and what you can do as a pet owner to keep them as safe as possible. 

God Bless you all






Upcoming articles in this series:

Traveling with pets.  How to keep them safe.

Car Insurance: Friend or Foe?  Safe driving records mean NOTHING

Just how safe are our highways?  Paying attention to driving. 

Should non-emergency cell phone use while driving be banned?

Is the trucking industry REALLY monitoring their drivers for safety violations?  How you can find out.



Innocent lives depend on everyone paying attention at the wheel !!  If you kill someone because you were sitting on a cell phone chatting with a friend and not paying attention to driving you are guilty of reckless homicide and you should face the penalty!! More and more states are outlawing the use of cell-phones while operating a motor vehicle because of safety reasons. Pull over or take the nearest exit if you need to make a call. Unless it is an emergency-HANG UP & DRIVE.  Operating a motor vehicle takes concentration and a life can be lost or permanently changed in an instant because of an accident.  Drivers need to stay focused on the task of driving.


Please click on "What's WOO in the news" and my other News pages for past articles that affect you and your pets.

Jo Helms-Editor and Freelance writer for the "Siberian Husky Express", member DWAA.


Cancer - Dogs, Conditions and Diseases, Cancer



If you have important issues that affect the lives and welfare of our pets, please email me and I will be happy to consider it for posting on this site.

God Bless the Beasts and the Children.

Disclaimer:  The stories and articles displayed on this web site are the expressed and written opinion of the author and do not reflect the opinion of the Dog Writer's Association of America(DWAA).

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