By Ron Leir
Memories of animals abandoned in a flooded New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are propelling one public official into action to protect pets in Nutley.
Public Affairs Commissioner Steven Rogers said his department is launching an Animal Rescue Team, comprised of pet-owning volunteers, who would shelter and care for household dogs and cats “during emergencies that require residents to leave their homes.”
Rogers said volunteers would also be asked to step forward to look after pets for senior citizens living alone who, due to illness, may be temporarily unable to care for the animals.
Rogers, a former township police detective, said he was motivated to set this plan in motion after having witnessed, first-hand, the ordeal that countless numbers of Louisiana residents experienced after Katrina hit in late August 2005.
“I’d been serving in the Navy Reserves and I was just back from my duty when Katrina happened and the Humane Society of the United States put out a call asking anyone with a public safety background to go into Louisiana and rescue dogs left behind in the hurricane,” Rogers recalled.
In New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, Rogers and other members of his team of volunteer rescuers saw “boats on top of houses, every window knocked out, trees gone – but not one animal.”
Then, he said, “a member of our team whistled – and suddenly, we heard barking.” Dogs suddenly came out from behind houses and those trees not uprooted.
“Many were so frightened, they wouldn’t come near us,” Rogers said.
For those that couldn’t be coaxed out, the team left as much food and water as they could spare so that, hopefully, the dogs would survive until the water went down.
After three days, the team pulled out and made its way to a makeshift encampment. There, Rogers said, “we saw all kinds of animals – horses, goats, hundreds of dogs.” The locals took pictures of the dogs and posted them on the Internet in hopes that the owners would recognize them and come to claim them but many ended up being put up for adoption, Rogers said.
Next, a tornado hit the area so “we had to evacuate,” Rogers said. He jumped on a passing pickup truck to get out and spent the night at a local police station. Next day, he got a ride to the airport, only to be diverted to a Red Cross makeshift camp site where Rogers helped build shelters and provided security against looters.
“I spent close to two weeks down there,” Rogers said. “It was an experience that will stay with me the rest of my life. … When I spoke with people, especially senior citizens who had to leave their lifelong friends (pets) to virtually die, I knew then and there that every city and town across the nation must be prepared never to allow this to ever happen again. Now I am in a position to ensure that all of our residents’ pets are safe if (the residents) have to be evacuated.”
Still, it’s not something that his department is jumping into lightly.
“We’re going to make sure that the animals to be cared for have all of the proper shots,” he said. As for the volunteers, no special training is being required. “Basically, we’re looking for animals lovers,” he said.
Nutley’s Charley Tedesco, the owner of three dogs (an English Bulldog, a Labrador and a Yorkie), is one such enthusiast who has signed up for the program.
Showing off Jax, his 3-yearold Bulldog, Tedesco – who runs the facilities department at Union County College – asserted: “I’ll fight to the death for this dog. If people can’t take care of their dog, at least they’ll know their dog will be in good hands.”
“Jax, here,” Tedesco said, “is like one of my kids. And if I didn’t have room (to accommodate another resident’s pet), I’d find room. And that dog would eat what my dog eats and it would be treated the same as my dog.”
Residents who have pets and want to volunteers for the Animal Rescue Team program are invited to call the Public Affairs Department at (973) 284-4976 or email the department at commissionerrogers@ nutleynj.org.