Sunday, December 25, 2005
It seems that my reputation proceeded me to New Orleans. I am a Stealth Volenteer. Basically what that means is that I am an internet slueth working with a group to track down the owners of pets whose location we know. (The opposite of helping an owner find a missing pet I suppose you could say). It seems to be the consensus that a Stealth is a computer wiz. Ok so I do know a bit about PC's, but I am far from a wiz. From the moment I checked in, I was asked to be the reunion coordinator. Basically this would be a coordination between the ground teams and the offsite volenteers who were trying to find an owner. There was two problems with this. One- we only had 5 days that we could hold the animal before shipping it to a shelter. Lack of space and time made everything harder. The issue was the question of when this 5 day period began- from the moment the animal arrived or the moment Rose (the reunion information queen) got the data. With Bestfriends and ARNO working together, we had 2 very different opinions on this. The 2nd problem was that No one really know what a coordinator would actually DO.
My first job was to unpack my car and get my stuff situated. I discovered at this point that Celebration Station was not just a Vegetarian location- it was Vegan. AHHH! So all the food I had brought along to share was not shareable- or rather not publically shareable, I had to keep it in my bag upstairs. I have to say that this was the only thing that REALLY bothered me all week. Lack of showers and sleep didn't phase me, but I was really irritated about not being allowed to cook my own meal if it contained milk or meat products.
Once unpacked I met the people I would be working with- Whitney the dog care coordinator, Pia the head of ARNO, Kris the fill in for Chandra the cat lady, and Craig one of the trappers. There was still no consensus on what I would be doing so I decided to go out with Craig after a local came in with a report of a pregnant dog and a bonded male.
A Bonded pair is two animals that share a bond (DUH), like the parents of puppies/kittens, or animals that may have lived together before the storm. The goal is to keep bonded together, as this helps to reduce stress and other side effects in the animals.
Anyway, Craig took me out and taught me how to set a trap. Where to place the food, the trick to getting the dog to trip the trap (put some food under the trip plate), how to run a trail, how to get the dog TOO the trail (tuna juice!). We then left the trap, as an animal would be wary and sence us nearby. The trick is to circle in 1/2 hour to 45min runs- long enough for a dog to complete it's circuit if you scared them on the last run, but not long enough for the dog to get out or get hurt if you did catch it.
We saw nothing on our first two circuits, and were maybe thinking that we should have scouted out a bit better before setting the trap. Our "informer" told us that they fed at the church (where we set the trap) but it's always best to set the trap closest to where they sleep. The first trap had been disturbed, food around it had been eaten, so we know someone had been by, but we were not sure who. Earlier in the evening Craig had been complaining about this trap and a dog that escaped from it earlier that week (it was too short to close the dog in quickly enough before it could get out), and his frustrations were played out when we saw a closed trap- with no dog. They had escaped. We set a 2nd trap behind the church after seeing paw prints back there. We headed over to the FEMA tent to get Xmas dinner (It was closer than Celebration Station) and after scarfing food (you don't want to leave the traps too long) we headed back out to the site.
The Neighbourhood we were working in was an erie experience. You drive up and it looks normal. Not a lot of wind damage, a bit of garbage, but not too excessive, and cars parked in driveways. And then you look closer. The water line was up above the roof in many places. The cars were still sodden as were the carpets in houses. The "garbage" was family photo's and pieces of lives. It was a stark reality check that not everything was normal.
By this point it was nearly dark, so we parked down the street a ways to watch the trap. It's erie to sit in a van, with the radio down, and watch the sun go down on a neighbourhood and not see the porch or house or even street lights flicker on. You could hear a distant whine of the major throughway, but mostly the entire area was silent. Normally, silence like that would be peaceful, restful. But this was haunted with the lives that once inhabited this street. Up ahead we saw the flash of a pair of eyes, and we knew, we had visitors. Both Craig and I sat up to watch the animal cautiosly approach the trap. He sniffed. Then he howled calling his mate. He lay next to the trap, taunting us. A car drove by startling them, and they took off. Craig decided to circle the block, as it was too dark to see well by this point and we needed a better staging location. However, as we drove by the house next to the church and Craig happened to look inside- there seeing an entire gang of puppies.
This changed everything. Now, instead of trying to lure them with food, the Puppies became motivation. No mother dog will abandon her puppies, and then the mother could be used to catch the Pappa. It was easy enough to capture the puppies. These were the biggest fattest puppies- the were like hedgehogs they were so big. We put them in a dog carrier with blankets to keep them warm, and then put a trap on either side of the carrier. The idea is that the dogs will go in the trap to get to their puppies.
From our vantage point we watched while both the mother and father circled the crate and the traps. Then, we held out breath as the father walked into the front trap. The long silver one- not the one that would let him out if it sprung. There was nothing for what felt like an hour but was probabley 30 seconds. And then the dog backed out of the trap. He didn't hit the trip plate. The Pappa dog howled, and the mother arrived, she went directly in the trap. 1 min passed. Momma came out. By this point Craig was biting the steering wheel. Talk about frustration. Finally we made a call to some of the other trappers for advice.
Teh puppies had been living in a house, and it would make no change to them if we put them back in the house, albiet in a carrier. Then you put the trap in front of the carrier leading into the house to trap them as they came inside. The puppies would be out of the wind and safe. So that's what we did. We were told to leave for an hour so that the parents could settle down, so we headed back to CS. Craig headed out an hour later (around midnight at this point) and I stayed back to help with zipping some data. To his ultimate frustration, he came back with a full cage- of cat. Dog traps seem to be very effective for catching cats- at least for Craig. He still had the 2nd trap out, so we put the cat in the holding room in the trap, so it could be transported to LASPCA for triage in the morning.
I had been meeting the cats, and Craig then asked us for the trap back (seeing as he needed it for the dog. Thus began out 2nd adventure of the night. Kris entered the cage and I stood outside to keep the cat away from the door- the weak spot. Now the holding room is a cage instide a caged off room, and the trick is to get the cat in the carrier in the smaller room. However- we had an escape artist. He managed to squeeze himself through a split in the ceiling of the holding room, and plummeted around the caged room. He zoomed up the wall and wedged himself in the ceiling beams. Grrrreeaaaaatttt. By this point half of CS was awake watching us. If the danger to the cat and us (who knew what this cat had- you didn't want to get scratched or bit) hadn't been so great it would have been pretty darn funny. Anyway, a few stragglically thrown towels to dislodge it from it's spot and a catch net saw the cat firmly esconded in a cage- with Craig, looking abashed- carrying the trap.
We headed out again to the set trap and the puppies. On the previous run, Craig was telling me that the mother had wedged herself between the door and the trap, and so he had pinioned it closed around the trap to prevent it happening again.
As we approach the site we see.... Trap closed. YES! We had caught the mother dog. We approached the trap carefully, you never know what the dog's reaction will be. What we got was..... a wagging tail. This dog was so HAPPY to be caught. We took her and her puppies and decided to come back for the father tomorrow..... which means Craig didn't really need that trap after all.
After getting the mother and her puppies safely in a cage for the evening, I decided it was time to hit the hay. 1am, and sleep.
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