"If I don't make it, will you take my PaPa Jack?"
"Don't be silly, we're not even going to go there. We'll beat this."
Those words were exchanged on a spring day after my dear friend, Cindy Groslie, was diagnosed with cancer. In spite of wanting to be optimistic, we both had been around the block a few times, known plenty of heartache and had strong streaks of reality streaming through us.
The idea of Cindy being separated from her cats, especially her beloved orange tabbies Papa and Buford, and Zack, her old Basenji dog, was excruciating.
Six months later, we did have to go there. Three weeks before she died we brought Papa, Buford and Zack to the hospital in hopes of giving Cindy a renewed sense of strength to face whatever was to come. When Cindy was wheeled back to her bed, none of us could speak, but all of us cried. We all knew what was to come.
I returned to Cindy's room and whispered, "I'll take Papa Jack home with me tonight and I'll bring him back to you when you go home. In the meantime, I'll give you daily reports of how he's doing."
She squeezed my hand.
On her night stand sat a small, fleece orange tabby with front paws held together. When you squeezed the tummy, a child's voice said, "Dear Lord, hear my prayer for all your creatures everywhere, for animals both big and small and for my pets. Please watch them all."
PaPa went from her loving arms to mine and as many of you know, PaPa became my beloved Poppy. We called him my "velcro kitty," which gives you a visual of our inseparability.
My Poppy died in March. To comfort me, Mariah patted my back and said, "Mom, you know Cindy's been waiting for Poppy."
Through my tears I replied, "Yes, I know."
The separation or death of a loved one, whether family member, friend or feathered or furred companion is devastating. Watching the coverage of Hurricane Katrina as it bore down on the Gulf Coast states and the horrors of its aftermath were heart-wrenching.
Like millions of viewers, I saw footage of animals fading into the distance as videographers in boats drifted away from stranded pets and wildlife. Like people, there were dogs and cats on rooftops, animals stranded in trees, dogs treading water, all terrified.
In another scene a small white dog was scratching at the door of bus as it pulled away and left him on the street. Innumerable people were filmed as they were forced to forfeit their animals in exchange for evacuation accommodations, or fruitlessly for lack thereof. Fortunately I missed the shots of the inconsolable little boy, who was crying so hard he vomited as adults took away his dog.
None of the humans who experienced this tragedy will ever be the same. Many have lost loved ones. Thousands have lost all material possessions, their health, means of income and sense of security and been uprooted in body and spirit. The thoughts of such are agonizing. There's no way to comprehend the heaviness in their hearts.
In addition, thousands have lost their pets through unintentional abandonment, being swept away by floodwaters and death from starvation, injury and disease. In countless cases, the only companionship many residents had prior to the natural disaster was their animals.
And, I believe, those animals parted from their owners also suffer both physically and psychologically. In my opinion, some will even die of heartbreak.
Hundreds, if not thousands within the huge swath of the storm, refused to leave their animals. In too many cases, both people and pets died. Clearly, the immediate needs of the majority of the victims have yet to be met. Part of the ongoing process is the rescue of animals. The crisis has not passed and the urgency continues.
Tonight we'll squeeze the soft fuzzy tabby that sits on Mariah's night stand. Next week, I'll write about the local efforts of HART (Heartland Animal Rescue Team) and those of Animal Ark, a Minnesota-based shelter and rescue organization that has been and will continue to be on the front-line. I'll let you know how you may become a volunteer or foster animals that may still be reunited with their hopeful owners.
In the meantime, you might want to learn more by visiting the Animal Ark Web site at www.animalarkshelter.org.
Andrea Lee Lambrecht, naturalist and outdoors photographer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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