June 14, 2006

Helping the Helpless

1517 page5 capill Harris, a 63-year-old man living in Slidell, Louisiana, when Hurricane Katrina hit, told reporters that he awoke the morning of August 29 to the meowing of his cat and found his condominium full of water. After plunging into more than six feet of water, Harris said he saw his cat, Miss Kitty, leap across the room. He followed her and finally found safety on a chair that somehow had stayed upright. He spent almost three days standing on that chair in the water, cradling his cat in his arms, before being rescued by men in a passing boat. Harris credited God and Miss Kitty with saving his life.
The story took a sad twist, however, when Harris’s rescuers told him they were unable to take his cat on board. Harris was inconsolable, but animal rescue workers later found Miss Kitty and drove 75 miles to unite cat and owner. At the time, Harris was in a hospital after suffering a seizure.
Sadly, Harris’s health continued to deteriorate, and he has since died from what are believed to be complications resulting from his harrowing experience. Miss Kitty has been adopted by one of the people who rescued her.1
This tragic episode stretches the emotions from fear to hope, from great joy to deep sorrow. And it is only one of thousands of stories of disaster, survival, and death that resulted from Hurricane Katrina.
1517 page5My daughter, Melissa, works for a veterinary clinic whose staff was involved with Katrina-related animal rescue as well as treating and finding homes for numerous cats and dogs. Because of that, I’ve also heard numerous stories about the four-legged casualties—and without diminishing the human suffering, many of them too are tragic.
Statistics vary, but according to FEMA, more than 200,000 dogs and almost 250,000 cats were displaced by Katrina. Many died in the storm or were euthanized because of injuries, poor health, or aggression. But thanks to animal rescue groups such as the American Humane Association, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and dozens of small state or local organizations, thousands were rescued, reunited with their owners, or adopted.2  
Our family—although initially unwilling—recently brought into our home a Katrina rescue dog that was deemed unadoptable. Lexie is a 2-year-old pit bull, the breed least desired by most people looking for a family dog because of its reputation of viciousness when bred and raised to be aggressive—but Lexie, as well as many other pit bulls, is not of that mold. Perhaps partly because of her nature as well as what she has endured, Lexie is extremely fearful. Scarred, ill, undernourished, trembling almost continually—she was a pitiful sight.
Many vet visits and hundred of dollars later, Lexie is finally beginning to regain her health, as well as trust in her new human companions. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but as I watch her play in the yard with our other dog, Murphy, I feel good about making a difference in at least this one animal’s life.
As Christians, our biblical directive is to care not only for our fellow humans but also God’s other creatures. This doesn’t necessarily mean bringing a dog, cat, or other animal into the home, but we should strive to at least be humane and do what we can to help to relieve the stress of an injured or ill animal when presented with the opportunity. 
“They’re like children,” I said to Melissa one day at her vet clinic while looking at pets in various stages of treatment. “They don’t understand what’s happening to them. And they trust their owners the way young children trust their parents—so completely. They must think we often violate that trust.”
“Well, it’s like our relationship with God,” Melissa responded. “He allows us to go through many painful and difficult situations, and we usually don’t understand why. But He loves us and wants only what’s best for us, in spite of the situations we may find ourselves in. Even though these animals may not know it, that’s what we’re trying to do as well—what is best for them.”
Spiritual wisdom and a caring spirit—can we ask God for more?    
2 To adopt a pet, please contact your local humane society.
 Sandra Blackmer is news editor for the Adventist Review