“When are you coming home?,” asked Carol Brown, a neighbor from Sebago and fellow Red Cross volunteer from the Southern Maine Chapter. “And could I ask a favor of you?”
”Go ahead and ask,” I said. I should have been suspicious, but I’m a little slow sometimes.
Carol had found two dogs, victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and wanted to adopt them. She said “They are now in a foster home, in Gonzales. Could you bring them back with you when you come home?”
”Gonzales is way up by Baton Rouge,” I said. “How would I get them? What kind of dogs are they anyway?”
She explained that they were a pair of female Chihuahuas who had put up for adoption by their owner, Shandra, when she moved into an apartment that didn’t allow dogs. They had been evacuated to Lake Charles, Louisiana to escape Katrina, and then evacuated again when Rita come through. The dogs have been with a foster home for three months now. The owner specified that the dogs could only go to a good, loving home and that the two dogs had to stay together.
Carol found them listed on line with a pet rescue and relocation website and made the contact with their foster owner, Cheryl Gautreau. The two of them worked out all the details. Carol convinced Cheryl that she would give the dogs a good home, and only one small detail remained. How to get the dogs from Louisiana to Maine?
That’s where I came in. Last October I had brought Raggs back to his mistress who had evacuated from Slidell to Portland, Maine. So I guess I was responsible for setting myself up to help Carol with her dilemma.
”Sure,” I said to Carol. “I’ll bring the dogs back with me if I can make arrangements with the airlines.” I told you I was a soft touch.
I called Cheryl in Gonzales and she gave me some details about the dogs – how much the weighed, their ages, etc. She said that she would take care of all their shots and get the veterinarian certificates, and would drive them to me at the New Orleans airport when I was ready to leave. She knew a little about the Katrina and Rita story, but none of the details, and said she would try and get in contact with their owner and put her in contact with me.
I called the airline and made reservations for the dogs. There was quite a lot of discussion with several airline representatives before they finally agreed to let me take two dogs on board with me, in one cage. The fact that they only weighed about 7 pounds each made it easier to sell, but the airline clearly bent their rules to let me do it. Their hurricane story helped a lot, and it was clear that the individuals at customer service really wanted to help and we just had to work to find an avenue in their airline regulations which would allow it. Finally I had a confirmation number for both dogs and a new airline reservation. Because they only allow two dogs total on any flight in coach, they had to rebook me on later flights. Instead of arriving home in Portland at 4:30pm I was going to get home at 10:00 p.m.
I met Cheryl at a Wendy’s just west of the airport on Airline Drive. I got there an hour ahead of our scheduled 8:00 a.m. meeting time because I wanted to avoid the traffic around the airport. The President was flying in to do another inspection tour of Katrina damage and traffic around the airport was a zoo. Cheryl got caught in traffic, however, was an hour late arriving at 9:00 a.m.
”I flew a dog once to Burlington, Vermont,” Cheryl told me. “But that is quite a ways to go, and I really appreciate you taking the dogs to Carol for me.” She introduced me to Tiger and Lilly and gave me their papers. I had picked up a travel cage at Wal-Mart in Algiers along with dog dishes, leashes and dog food for the trip. The cage size met the airline rules to fit under the seat in front of me.
I drove back to the Red Cross office in Metairie to out-process and Cheryl went back to Gonzales. The dogs were the center of attention at the office while I went around getting signatures from folks on my out-processing forms. The counter agents gave me a little grief when I checked in, but with my confirmation numbers for the dogs and a couple of very sympathetic agents everything went OK. We had a little time before our flight, so I found a patch of grass at the parking garage to let the dogs have a little run before boarding.
Our flight connection in Charlotte, NC was delayed so the dogs had plenty of time to explore the smells in the lawns surrounding the airport. Eventually we boarded, and as I write this on the plane flying to Portland they are asleep in their cage at my feet. They have been wonderful traveling companions, making neither fuss nor noise at any time.
Carol and Ralph Brown are going to pick up Penny and my dog Colby at the farmhouse in Sebago and bring them to the Portland airport to meet my flight when it gets in. Carol said that Ralph is going to stay in the van to keep it warm, and she has sweaters for each of the dogs and a blanket. She is very concerned about the shock to these two little Louisiana dogs when they get a taste of Maine winter weather. We left New Orleans at 75 degrees and will get to Portland at 25 degrees – quite a difference.
There are thousands more animals displaced or orphaned by Katrina in Louisiana, and I expect probably thousands more in Mississippi and Alabama as well. Helping Raggs, Tiger and Lilly come home to new homes in Maine isn’t much when you look at the bigger need, but every little bit helps. I’m easy, I guess, but I really don’t mind helping out. It seems like such a small, but important, thing to do.