October 12, 2005
Clyde Sanda fell in love over and over during a two-week period – and willingly allowed his heart to be broken a few times.
The Hood River resident learned many new life lessons by caring for dogs left homeless in the wake of two hurricanes.
“I am just amazed at the goodness of people and at the strength of people down (Gulf Coast) there who have lost everything,” Sanda said.
He recently returned from Slidell, La., where he volunteered for two weeks with Noah’s Wish, an animal rescue group. Sanda remembers the feeling of helplessness brought by the absolute despair reflected in the eyes of older dogs. He said these canines were clearly in emotional anguish over being left behind by a beloved owner.
And he could not explain to them that the abandonment had not been intentional: that the lives of their owners had been uprooted unexpectedly and tragically by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Even if he could have communicated with the animals, Sanda knew that some of their owners would never return. Many storm victims had been evacuated to another state where they were being given an opportunity to start a new life. Or, they would be in transit until their house had been rebuilt – a lifestyle that did not accommodate a pet. He also knew that many displaced citizens of Louisiana did not even know whether their pets were dead or alive.
Sanda fought tears while describing the extreme depression of “Molly,” a Golden Retriever-mix. For one brief moment she had perked up – while being transported to another location. She apparently thought the van was taking her home. When it became clear that was not going to happen, Molly seemed to lose her will to live.
She stopped eating and even refused to take her twice-daily walk – in spite of Sanda’s coaxing.
“I was physically sticking doggie treats in her mouth and she was basically spitting them out,” he said.
He was also struck with sorrow when traveling into New Orleans and seeing all of the fresh and rotting dog carcasses along both sides of the freeway. Once Sanda tried to cajole a starving stray into the vehicle but the suspicious animal ran away from help.
The dog appeared to be sick and was covered with toxic mud left by floodwater, but he was also wearing a collar. Sanda knew the animal had once been tame but now it was controlled by a primitive fear of humans.
“By now, these animals are almost wild and you physically have to trap them. They won’t come to you, they are just so scared,” he said.
Sanda was especially touched by families who had lost everything but came regularly to visit their pet.
He said one family with two dogs and four cats in the shelter arrived daily in the same clothing. He surmised that they had nothing else to wear and yet they took time to graciously thank him and other volunteers for their help.
He said it was very rewarding when an owner would arrive to claim a dog or cat that he/she believed had been lost forever.
“It was awesome to see people’s faces light up when they saw their pet,” said Sanda.
He said many of the volunteers with Noah’s Wish had given up their vacation time, and paid their own travel expenses, to help others.
And a strong bond was formed among workers brought by 12-hour work days in 95 degree heat with comparable humidity.
“I have a whole new appreciation for our country and for people,” he said.
Although Sanda found great sadness in the aftermath of America’s worst domestic disaster, he also discovered there was plenty to smile about.
After all, he had secured the best job in the municipal building that was being used as a giant kennel. Sanda was placed in charge of 18 puppies from among the population of 500 dogs.
His duties were to give them plenty of love and care, and to keep them exercised and clean.
“I’ve never received so many doggie kisses as I have in the last week. Many of the dogs don’t even want to walk, they just want to be held,” he wrote in an e-mail update to friends and family.
In addition to dogs, the shelter housed another 300 animals, mostly cats but also ducks, turkeys and other birds.
Sanda said the noise was deafening when something occurred that set off quacking, clucking, chirping, mewling and barking. He eventually learned to carry any dog outside for a walk instead of leading it through the cages on a leash.
Sanda said an unrestrained dog evoked territorial responses among the other canines, which frightened the cats, and so on.
“I’m exhausted, semi-depressed, sweaty and smell like dog poop. It’s on my clothes, skin and even my hair.
But the pets and people here are amazing. Everybody, including the pets, complains but we keep on going,” wrote Sanda’s of his experience.
A parvo outbreak claimed the life of the runt among hound triplets — some of Sanda’s favorite pups. A yellow Cocker Spaniel also almost died under his watch — but managed to beat the disease.
Sanda said Rita slightly increased the number of pets left behind by Katrina.
After 30 days in the shelter, Sanda said the animals will be placed in foster homes.
However, Noah’s Wish is reluctant to ship pets too far since they have to be brought back home if the original owner shows up — and that could bring added expenses to the not-for-profit organization based in California.
Although he wanted to keep at least one of the puppies, Sanda knew they would be easy to place with a new family.
Eventually, he said, Noah’s Wish, which was founded solely to save animals during a disaster, will turn its “inmates” over to the local Humane Society and they will either be adopted out or euthanized.