Thursday, October 23, 2008

Reuniting Ranger, so why no Happy Dance at the Houston SPCA?

Meet Ranger! Ranger got lost during Ike.  Look at the photos. 

One family member says the "found" photo has changed their lives forever.   The family's LOST ad read:

Ranger is a 5 year old sweet, gentle, long haired Retriever/Aussie Shep mix. He's got brown eyes and mostly black hair with a patch of white on his chest and bits of white between his toes. He had a blue collar with a tag for his Vet on it out of Bacliff, TX. The rabies code is 4 digits. Ranger weighs about 65 pounds. We really miss him and want him to come home.

Ranger was lost in San Leon, TX during Ike. It is, or was, a pretty place. When the storm surge came before Ike, it became unrecognizable. The familiar landscape was replaced by water that would forever separate some families. 

Here is the story of what happened to Ranger.

Everyone but the son and Ranger left before the surge. The son finished boarding up the house, put Ranger in his van and called his parents to say he was leaving because the water was coming.
But he left too late.

A wave took the van and slammed it into a guardrail. It started to fill with water. The son managed to grab Ranger and swim out of the van.

He swam with his 65 pound dog under his arm. A second huge wave came as the electricity failed.
A third wave, twelve feet high, parted them in the dark as the young man had to let go and swim for his life. He was hit by debris, by alligators, by the dead. Swimming for his life, he endured the horror of being hit by bodies of the drowned.

And as he swam to survive in that terrifying deadly black water, he looked for his dog.
Escaping the surge, he reached safety, but alone. He found a fire truck whose crew took him to shelter.

We will never know how Ranger survived and made it to safety, but he did. He ended up at the Houston SPCA and his family saw his photo online.

A family member called the SPCA and said, "You found our dog!" She provided them with the Ranger's shelter ID number.

You would think the SPCA would be delighted at the prospect of a reunion. Reunions are rare, especially when no effort is made to contact owners, even when the animals are removed from homes.

Instead the Houston SPCA appeared to go out of their way to discourage the family.
"It is not your dog."

That was the immediate response. How did they know? How could they know without checking? (Just look at the pictures above. What do you think?) 

Why didn't the family hear something like, "Wow, let's see. I hope it is your dog!"

Here is a description of the exchange:
"With each question, I felt they were trying harder and harder NOT to reunite him with his family. The final straw was telling me that he was about to be put up for adoption this week if he passed the personality test."
She told the SPCA they were coming to get the dog that day and the unfeeling response was they could not promise he would be there.

She begged them; "Please, as a personal favor, please hold the dog until he can be picked up."

What is it about a disaster that brings out the best and the worst? Why do some people, confronted with a stranger who has nothing, open their homes? And why do other people look down from a position of power and make them plead?

Even if you have no empathy with people, how can professionals, who choose to work with animals, care so little about them?

Dogs grieve. Lost dogs mourn their lost families. (If you do not know this from your own experience, see the literature of Jack London or Charles Dickens.)

Why would the SPCA be so eager to adopt out an animal the family is coming to claim?

And if Ranger goes home, doesn't it mean another dog will get lucky and be adopted? And then somewhere down the line, there will be shelter space for a dog that would otherwise be put to sleep?

Shouldn't that be what an organization called the "Society for the Prevention and Cruelty to Animals" is all about?

Here is why. And it is not just the Houston SPCA.
The ten days were up. No exceptions.

Ten days after rescue, all rescued animals were available for adoption. (Some desirable little dogs didn't even last ten days, more on that in a future blog.)

The focus of the rescue effort was to save animals to re-home them. It is easier and cheaper to adopt out animals than to hold them and reunite them.

Ranger's ten days were up and that's why the SPCA could say Ranger was not their dog. They meant, he is
no longer your dog.

But against all odds, there was a happy ending. Surviving a hurricane makes you strong and the family went to the SPCA to get their dog and would not be denied. 

Ranger was so excited to see his Mom and Dad, he whined and barked and wagged until they had no choice but to admit he had found his family. 

The son broke down when he heard Ranger had survived.

The home he stayed to board up has vanished.

The family has to start over. But now, thanks to Ranger's improbable return, they are not starting over from scratch.

Hope is talked about a lot these days and in a conventional sense. Red or blue, you can have your own ideal of Hope. Neither party holds the copyright. But for this family, Hope is
a sweet, gentle, long haired Retriever/Aussie Shep mix.

Monday, October 13, 2008

If the Tempest is Forgotten, is it Past?

I have a deep level of frustration at what I perceive as, not so much a cover-up, but as a "hushing up" of the tragedy on the Bolivar Peninsula and in Galveston and environs.

There are articles out there on the missing and the death toll, if not a list of their names. You will find the same problem with Katrina. That list of dead is only online in one spot and is only for New Orleans. It took some searching to find it and it is far from complete.

The list is of 910 names, of which 824 were identified. Here is an article that would indicate the total for New Orleans should be higher.

Almost forty per cent of the identified victims were seventy-five or older. Storms often take those too old, too stubborn, too alone or too unaware to leave.

They never dredged the canals in New Orleans. You would think that would have been a place to look for the missing, especially with the anecdotal accounts of bodies being put into the canals from rooftops like bodies slipped from ships at sea.

The death toll from the 1900 Galveston hurricane was corrected well over 50 years later. The same thing happened with the San Francisco earthquake and fire. In both cases the undercounting was deliberate. Civic leaders were downplaying the tragedy even as they were dealing with the cleanup.

One news story says "Hundreds of people remain missing three weeks after Ike's assault on Texas. Local and city officials are no longer keeping their own count of missing residents, and the estimate varies wildly from one agency to another."

That is certainly what I have found with my online research. Part of the problem is there is (apparently) no federal effort to locate the missing and catalog the dead.

I will try and construct a list of those who died in Texas by using news reports and obituaries. If anyone would care to leave me links, please do so.

I worked with evacuees during Katrina and in some cases was the contact for people who did not want their phone numbers disclosed online. One day I got a call from someone in the forensic unit working on the Katrina missing list. (I wonder if they have a unit set up for Ike?) I was able tell the person that the woman was alive and put them in touch with the family for verification. The FEMA contractor was pleased because she said they rang a bell whenever they verified that someone on the missing list had survived and she would get to ring the bell.

I then asked her about a couple of names I had. She was shocked they were on her list and I had to tell her she would not get to ring a bell for them. One was a woman who evacuated from a hospital in New Orleans after the storm and who then disappeared. Her family and friends, and myself and some friends, looked for this woman for a month. We tracked her from the hospital, to a prison (staging area), to a helipad and no further. I knew someone calling every hospital in Louisiana, starting with the letter "A" asking for this eighty year old woman.

Finally the family was notified.

She had died almost immediately and was in a morgue with ID in her pocket. All the time the state of Louisiana was looking for her, they had her. Why was no one notified? Louisiana has no law requiring they notify next of kin when they are holding a body. Apparently most states do not have a law requiring this. I wonder about Texas. Could there be recovered bodies with ID that are not being processed?

At one point federal legislation was introduced requiring that "hospitals make reasonable efforts to contact a family member, specified healthcare agent, or surrogate decisionmaker of a patient who arrives at a hospital emergency department unconscious or otherwise physically incapable of communicating."

It didn't pass. But wouldn't you have thought you didn't have to legislate this? You would have thought wrong. A hospital probably had this patient and her ID before the morgue did.

Next up. blogging on how the Houston SPCA is reluctant to reunite families and pets. (I don't get that either.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Media Blackout? Help, the Ike Missing List is Missing!

Do you wonder if we are getting the full story on the effects of Ike?

The day after the hurricane I watched a news report run over and over on damage to the reporter's hotel - you know the story I mean because that was the day's news on Ike's damage. Why would you have full coverage from a parking lot on falling masonry when there is a disaster blocks away? The only reason is you are not allowed to move. But the reporter missed the REAL story, that they were barred from reporting.

Comaparing the coverage of Katrina and Ike is like comparing the coverage between the first Gulf War and the current war. (Actually it is like the difference between the Vietnam war and the current war, but I am pandering to the blog demographic.)

During Katrina, reporters got the story. I think during Ike, they were given the story.

Just for fun, go to Google News and search on "bolivar peninsula news blackout." Here I can do it for you. You will see 7 stories displayed. The only one after September 16 is about a power blackout. With the economy and the debate, that just must not be an important story. Maybe all is well on the Bolivar Peninsula!

But what if you got to Google Blog and search on those terms?
  • Hurricane Ike Deaths Coverup? 24 Sep 2008 by Robert Lindsay
    I don't know if you're aware since we're getting no news coverage here in Texas, but thousands are missing in Galveston and Bolivar peninsula and there was a no fly zone over most of the area for over a week. No press was allowed in and ...
  • Tuesday, September 16, 2008
    Hurricane Ike news blackout; 1500 bodies found in Galveston?
    I kid you not when I say that he told me they saw AT LEAST 1500 bodies in trees scattered about Galveston. They also saw a lot in various ditches and marshes, esp. on the north side of East Galv. Bay, east side of Trinity Bay, and in the marshes between I-45 and Seabrook/Clear Lake/Deer Park.
  • Hurricane Ike -- West End, Bolivar Peninsula, and FEMA Response 15 Sep 2008 by Maggie Jochild
    ... Galveston -- the Bolivar Peninsula and the west end of Galveston Island -- have been wiped out. In addition, there is some question that this news is being kept from the public by a deliberate media blackout imposed either by Texas ...
  • Sequel: Hurricane Ike news blackout; hundreds of bodies found in Galveston area
    We have a friend who is a police officer for League City (an area of town much closer to Galveston- which seems to have taken most of the damage) and he says that even though they are only publicizing about 20 or so deaths, that there are several HUNDRED unidentified bodies on Galveston Island on the Bolivar Peninsula.

Here are some photos of the destruction of the Bolivar Peninsula that need no reporting.

I understand why there might be a news blackout in the interest of national security, but it MUST also be accompanied by a story that there IS a news blackout.

It is in the interest of national security to tell the public when a story can't be reported, because what if there is not a good reason to stop the media from covering the story? Why not put a little box on the front page of the paper, "Day X that Reporting is Barred from the Bolivar Peninusla." It would just reassure me to know the media is keeping track.

Why do the newspapers not say if they are prevented from visiting the Bolivar Peninsula and reporting freely if that is the case? And if they can go and report, why aren't they? Those of us in Texas care about our neighbors even if the stock market is going south! Add an extra page to the paper!!

Here are some photos of the destruction of the Bolivar Peninsula that need no reporting.

Harking back to my last blog: Beaumont, your rescued animals go up for adoption tomorrow. Seems the Ten Day Limit on retrieving rescues is up there.

Anyone who would like to get in touch about their missing animal, just send me your e-mail address or phone number in a comment. My comments are moderated so I will be able to get your info, but not post it online if that is your wish.

I will not post anyone's e-mail address, but just say if you do not want your comment posted. (Not like anyone will see this and comment though!)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What is happening?

I wonder if we are getting the full story on the effects of Ike. The day after the hurricane I watched a news report run repeatedly on damage to the reporter's hotel. I thought, "That reporter is not allowed to go anywhere!"

Why else would you have a story from a parking lot about falling masonry when there is a disaster blocks away?

Comaparing the coverage of Katrina and Ike is like comparing the coverage between the first Gulf War and the current war. (Actually it is like the difference between the Vietnam war and the current war.)

During Katrina, reporters got the story. I think during Ike, they were given the story.

Here are some photos of the total destruction of the Bolivar Peninsula that need no reporting.

If I could get some answers, here is what I would ask:

Are rescuers keeping records on where animals are rescued, or do they just assume the animals are not going home and why bother?

If an animal has tags, is anyone following up?

Are animals scanned for microchips?

Are animals removed from apartments and homes?

Are records kept on those animals, or will they also go into the "adoption" pipleline.

Why is the Houston SPCA not publicizing the Ten Day Limit to reclaim your pet on their website?

And finally, is "adoption" a euphemism?

It is hard to come by stats for euthanizations, but I found some figures from year 2000 showing reporting Texas shelters had a "PTS" (Put To Sleep) rate of 67%.

I believe this because San Antonio, where I live, has the highest kill rate of any city. We PTS more animals than New York City.

There are a lot of reasons for this that I need not go into, but they apply across the state. So if roadblocks are put in the way of owners retrieving their animals, does that mean the animals go to new homes? Or do they take that quick exit administered to so many?

And how many rescuers will want to come to Texas to chase down and save animals only to have them end up in a gas chamber (we are a bit backward at times) or be killed by needle?

And why can't I get answers to my questions about the rescue effort? (Requests for anonymity will be respected and I can protect your identity.)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

It is True, 10 Days and POOF!

After ten days, any animal rescued from Galveston that has been posted on the Houston SPCA website will be adopted out.

The people from Galveston have not been allowed consistent re-entry to determine if their animals are missing. They do not have computers. And I am finding the few mentions of this online, although a Houston SPCA volunteer told me "everyone knows about it." How reassuring.

So why isn't it on the Houston SPCA website?
Or on their Animal Central Rescue page?
Or on their Lost and Found Pet Tool
Or even on their partner in this

Is that because everyone knows about it already?

I did find this on the (yet another online mention for those without computers!):

"The Houston SPCA’s “Operation Save a Life” is asking every family who is able to foster a Galveston pet for ten days. If after ten days, the displaced animal is not reclaimed by its original owner, the foster parent has the option to adopt the animal or return him/her to the shelter for placement."

I found a mention in the Galveston Paper, but I am not sure if it was in the print version.

"After rescue teams spent just two days collecting animals from apartments, houses and streets, the shelter was filled to capacity, said Jim Boller, executive director for Code 3, one of the groups that responded to calls for help from Galveston officials."

"Animals will continue to be evacuated to Houston, where they also have a better chance of being reunited with their owners.

Volunteers are taking pictures of each rescued animal and posting those online.

Owners now have just 10 days from the time their pet’s picture appears on the Web site to reclaim the animals. After 10 days, officials from the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will offer them up for adoption."


Thursday, September 18, 2008

On Your Mark, Get Set, OH NO!

How is this Catch 22?


"Residents trying to get back to hurricane-ravaged Galveston yesterday spent hours fuming in gridlocked traffic, only to be turned away at the bridge by officials worried that the crippled island can't accommodate that many people."


"In partnership with the Houston SPCA, photos of rescued animals along with a brief description will be loaded onto their Web site, starting as soon as possible.

Pet owners will have a 10-day window of time to identify and collect their animals from the date of the photo's posting. After that point, the animals will be adopted out."

No problem! This was buried on the Houston Chronicle site. There is a claim of more info on and Unlike the evacuees, I have the time and equipment to search and found nothing on this listing.

But I am sure they will hear about it and be able to find a photo of their pet in ten days, no problem!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Stealth Volunteers

I work with an online group called The Stealth Volunteers. During Katrina we reunited well over a thousand animals with their families.

Before that I had never been involved with animal rescue in any way. Just recently I spent a couple of days in New Orleans helping people with pet evacuate before Gustav. I hightailed it up to Baton Rouge at 80 miles an hour before the storm hit later that day. In BR I had my first MRE. Avoid the omelet is my advice. The heating unit is cool though! I suggest throwing away the omelet and using the heating unit on something else . . .

Now we are working on Ike. The Stealth Volunteers are compiling online mentions of lost and found animals due to Ike and we are sending that information to shelters and rescues. I am going to blog here every day on our work, our reunions and feature someone's lost or found animal.

Meet TaterTot lost in Houston. "He ran out the door as the storm came. Believed to be in the Pinehurst area (Kipling Oaks or Timbergreen neighborhoods). We miss him dearly."

If you have seen this dog, please leave a note on the blog.

We need more volunteers to help us in our online work!

Click to join stealthvolunteers