Maine Farmhouse Journal

Back to Maine Farmhouse page

American Red Cross helps Raggs come home

October 5, 2005

Deborah Dickinson is one of the many unsung heroes of Hurricane Katrina and her bittersweet story now has a happy ending thanks to help from Noah’s Wish Animal Rescue and the American Red Cross. Dickinson survived the flooding and damage in Slidell, Louisiana and came to stay with her sister in Portland, Maine after the hurricane, but had to leave behind her beloved cat Raggs . Raggs has been staying at the Noah’s Wish animal shelter in Slidell for the last month, awaiting a ride to rejoin his mistress. On Tuesday, October 4, Red Cross volunteer Allen Crabtree brought Raggs back with him as he returned from his disaster relief work in Louisiana.

Dickinson lived at the Pine Terrace apartments in Slidell when Hurricane Katrina hit. Slidell is on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain and suffered heavy damage. The Mayor of Slidell has estimated that more than 2,000 homes were destroyed, and the town today looks like a war zone. The Pine Terrace apartments are on US 11 in one of the areas hit hardest by Katrina.

Deborah Dickinson survived Hurricane Katrina
at her Pine Terrace apartment in Slidell, LA.
Photo credit: Allen Crabtree

The heavy rain and strong winds wrecked havoc in Slidell, toppling trees and tearing off roofs, soaking everything. The storm surge that accompanied Katrina raised water levels and flooded homes and washed away cars. Through it all, Dickinson stayed in her second floor apartment, too afraid to venture out and unwilling to leave her cats - Raggs and Radar. She was also caring for her niece’s kitten, Miss Kitty.

“The water was 26 feet deep and came up all the way to the landing outside my apartment. As the storm raged, I saw dogs drowning in the courtyard, and my neighbor and I were able to pull eight of them to safety,” she said. “I took them all into my apartment, dried them off and fed them what little food I had. They were wonderful, and didn’t cause my cats any problems at all.”

She also said that she found a dead body floating in the water of the courtyard, and had to leave it where it was. Dickinson has been diagnosed with a terminal lung illness and can’t go far without her portable oxygen tank. “I just had no strength to do any more than I did,” she said. “I don’t know how I would have gotten the animals up to the roof if the water had kept rising. I wasn’t going to leave them.”

Katrina passed, but the area remained flooded. There was neither power nor water, and looters began ransacking the apartments in her complex. Dickinson ran out of oxygen. Her neighbors left and she had a chance to evacuate, but was told the animals couldn’t come. She refused to leave without them.

She stayed there for five days, alone in the dark without food or water, and fearful that any minute someone would break in.

“The Slidell Police came by and promised to send help for us. They said that they couldn’t give me a gun to protect myself from the looters, but did give me an axe,” she said.

“The dogs were a big comfort,” she continued. “They made such a commotion that I think they scared the looters away. No one bothered me and no one tried to break in.”

Noah’s Wish rescues Dickinson and her animals

Slidell Police arranged for the animal control officer and Noah’s Wish Animal Rescue volunteers to evacuate her and her animals. The animals were taken in by Noah’s Wish Animal Rescue at their shelter set up in Slidell. Dickinson was taken to a Red Cross shelter in Walker, Louisiana, and two days later she flew back to Portland, Maine to stay with her sister. She was forced to leave her beloved pets behind. The last day she saw them was September 3, the day she was evacuated from her apartment.

Pet rescue shelters such as Noah’s Wish provide a safe and clean alternate place for pets to stay while their owners are also staying at shelters. Noah’s Wish has rescued more than 1,200 Hurricane Katrina pets so far, including more than 700 dogs, nearly 500 cats, and 20 other species of animals from chickens and snakes to rabbits and horses. All are given a thorough check by volunteer veterinarians and are fed, groomed, and watered in separate, clean cages. Volunteers pamper their guests and walk them daily.

If the pet’s owners can be identified, they are notified so that the pet and family can be reunited when the family is able to return to a permanent home. Until that time, the pets can stay at Noah’s Wish shelter indefinitely. If the owners cannot be located, foster homes are found for any orphan pets. Noah’s Wish has a strict “no kill” policy.

Noah’s Wish worker Tammy Harlan
gets Raggs from his cage at Noah’s Wish
Animal Rescue shelter in Slidell, LA.
Photo credit: Allen Crabtree

Noah’s Wish worker Tammy Harlan
and Noah’s Wish President Terri Crisp
with Raggs before his big trip to Maine.
Photo credit: Allen Crabtree

Raggs, Radar, and Miss Kitty

Unfortunately Radar did not survive the ordeal and had to be put to sleep. He was an older cat and the trauma was too much for him. Raggs , however, was fine and had been staying in a cage at Noah’s Wish ever since Katrina. He is an eight-year old blue tip rag doll breed, whose formal name is Ragtime. Dickinson had no way to get her cat shipped to her, and Noah’s Wish had not been able to find anyone coming to Portland who could help. With the permission of the niece, Miss Kitty has been put up for adoption.

Allen Crabtree is a Red Cross volunteer from Maine who was deployed to Baton Rouge to help in the Katrina disaster relief effort. He is assigned to Public Affairs and was at the Noah’s Wish shelter to do a story on how the Red Cross has been helping the animal shelter’s work. Crabtree met with Terri Crisp, Noah’s Wish president and director of the Slidell shelter and her assistant Tammy Harlan, at Noah’s Wish on Wednesday, September 28. They saw the “Sebago Maine Fire Department” emblem on his hat, and asked “Do you live in Maine? Are you anywhere near Portland?”

Deborah Dickinson is reunited with her
beloved cat Raggs. They were separated
when Hurricane Katrina hit Slidell, LA.
Shown with her is Red Cross volunteer
Allen Crabtree who brought Raggs home.
Photo credit: Penny Crabtree

Harlan then told Crabtree the story of Raggs the cat and how they needed someone to take the cat home to its owner. It didn’t take much persuading for Crabtree to agree to take Raggs with him when he flew back home. He called Dickinson on the phone to get her permission, and she broke out in tears of relief. She didn’t think she’d ever see her beloved Raggs again.

Crabtree was on a Red Cross writing assignment in New Orleans and picked up Raggs from the Noah’s Wish shelter in Slidell on his way back to Baton Rouge on Monday, October 3. There were tears in everyone’s eyes as Raggs left. He was a very special guest of Noah’s Wish, and having him leave was both happy and sad.

The next morning Crabtree and Raggs boarded a Delta jet in Baton Rouge and landed at the Portland Jet Port at 5:00 p.m. Crabtree called Dickinson from the airport; “Raggs and I have landed in Portland and we’ll drive right to your hotel. We’ll be there in about 15 minutes.”

“I’ll be in the lobby waiting for you,” Dickinson said. And she was. With tears streaming down her face she lifted Raggs from his pet carrier and gave him a big hug. Raggs purred and rubbed his face against hers, clearly happy to be back with his mistress

Last updated December 29, 2005

Copyright © 2005, Allen Crabtree