Against All Odds
Abused Pit Bull turns into Hurricane Katrina hero
August 29, 2005, a community and its animals were irrevocably and tragically altered. One of the deadliest and strongest hurricanes ever recorded, exacted a devastating blow to the Gulf Coast leading to the loss of thousands of lives, both human and animal. Amid the chaos emerged one of the most enduring of bonds, the human-animal bond. In our relationship with animals, it became painfully clear that we needed them, as much as they needed us. Such was the case of Emily Roberson and Trap Jack. An unlikely duo with a bond that ultimately saved both of their lives.
Trap Jack was rescued by the Louisiana SPCA from his previous owners on suspicions of animal cruelty and neglect. It was unclear whether Trap Jack was directly involved in the malicious fights, or played the terribly cruel role of a bait dog. Either or, we can only begin to imagine the agony and fear he experienced during that time. While his previous owners went through court hearings, Trap Jack enjoyed his stay at the Louisiana SPCA and gained the love of the staff and volunteers with his personality that shone brightly despite the horrors he was subjected to. This ability to remain positive and friendly is what caught the attention of Emily Roberson, a Louisiana SPCA volunteer. Despite his scarred and rugged exterior, Emily felt there was so much more to this dog; a feeling shared by many of the staff members. When Trap Jack was officially surrendered to the Louisiana SPCA by the courts, Emily made the decision to first foster, and then adopt, the gentle giant she fell in love with; a choice she is glad she made knowing that Trap Jack quite possibly saved her life during their travels in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Emily had been a volunteer and foster parent with the Louisiana SPCA for four years when Katrina swept through New Orleans. Despite the imminent danger and mandatory evacuation orders, Emily postponed her own evacuation to help the Louisiana SPCA staff load and evacuate the 263 animals at the Japonica Street shelter in the Ninth Ward. Struggling to find places for special needs animals, the Louisiana SPCA was in urgent need of temporary hurricane fosters. The special needs animals required additional care during the massive evacuation and needed individual people to care for them. Hurricane foster parents would care for these animals during the storm and bring them back once the danger passed. One specific dog in need of this type of care was Billy Bud. Billy Bud was hit by a car and had a badly broken pelvis. Although his injury was already healing, Billy Bud still needed that extra level of care from a foster home. Emily quickly volunteered to take Billy Bud with her to evacuate and then bring him back after the storm passed. Little did she know their evacuation would last much longer than she expected.
After the grueling evacuation process at the Louisiana SPCA, Emily left to plan her own evacuation with Trap Jack and new foster dog Billy Bud. Leaving your home behind to flee a natural disaster is a frightening and nerve racking experience. Emily had to not only worry about herself but her two canine companions who depended on her for safety. Once Emily packed as much as she could fit into her small car, the trio hit the road with the deadly storm at their backs. They fled to a hotel in Victoria, Texas, near the border of Mexico; the closet pet-friendly hotel Emily could find.
Watching news reports from her hotel room, Emily learned that she would not be able to return to New Orleans after a few days away like she planned. Running short on funds, and without knowing the status of her apartment or job back in New Orleans, Emily decided to leave Texas and travel north to stay with family. Because Billy Bud was only supposed to be a temporary foster dog, Emily decided it was in his best interest to find a permanent home for him instead of bringing him along on her precarious trip across the country. She enlisted the help of a rescue group specializing in Pit Bulls, and with their help Billy Bud was adopted by a family in Austin, Texas. It was a hard goodbye for Emily and Trap Jack, but she was reassured by how quickly and happily Billy Bud assimilated with his new family. With Billy Bud settled in his new home, Emily and Trap Jack began their journey that would take them across the country.
A road trip that should have taken only a few days time took Emily and Trap Jack more than three weeks! Emily’s vehicle experienced several maintenance issues throughout the journey and caused serious delays in unfamiliar places. They traveled through Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island before finally arriving and finally in Boston, Massachusetts. Imagine Emily, a lone, 22-year-old woman traveling through isolated, unfamiliar and potentially dangerous places while frequently sleeping in her vehicle with only Trap Jack by her side. To many people on the streets, Emily might have looked like an easy target for robbery or worse. Thankfully, Trap Jack was a large, brindle Pit Bull with visible scars on his body. Although he was the sweetest dog Emily had ever met and would never hurt a fly, the mere sight of him in the passenger’s seat could easily deter the boldest of wrong-doers.
Emily is convinced that Trap Jack not only kept her safe, but also sane, during the three week journey across the country. “I can’t imagine what would have happened to me if Trap Jack hadn’t been there,” said Emily. “He’s was so much more than just a dog. He was my best friend and, at the time, my protector.”
Incidentally, when Emily first met Trap Jack she lived in an apartment that did not allow pets. So, in order to adopt him, Emily moved in June 2005. Shortly after the storm, Emily discovered her old apartment was completely destroyed during Katrina but the new dog-friendly apartment was thankfully spared. So, after just over three months of staying with assorted family and friends, Emily and Trap Jack returned to New Orleans in January 2006.
In the years that followed, Emily and Trap Jack enjoyed a fun and loving life together. Trap Jack walked in his first Mystic Krewe of Barkus parade during Mardi Gras 2006 sporting a homemade flying monkey costume, and was such a hit that he ended up becoming a fixture at many local events requiring costuming, even winning several prices along the way. He also was awarded the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen certificate and frequently attended events sponsored by the Louisiana SPCA as an education and outreach dog. This community work included being an original “spokesdog” for The Sula Foundation, a Pit Bull rescue and advocacy organization formed in New Orleans in 2008. Emily and Trap Jack also traveled the country together, including a long road trip from Louisiana to California which culminated in a move to Hawaii in September 2008. Despite starting out life as an abused Pit Bull in New Orleans, Trap Jack got to see more of the United States than most humans. He was also there to support Emily as she pursued and obtained both her MPH and her Ph.D. degrees. Emily was there in return for Trap Jack by loving, comforting and pampering him into his old age. Sadly, Trap Jack died in July 2013, almost eight years after Katrina. At the time of Trap Jack’s passing, Emily was still living in Hawaii; but in 2014 she returned to the city where she and Trap Jack first met in order to sprinkle his ashes in a ceremony attended by some of his best human and canine friends, saving a small amount in a heart shaped locket that she keeps with her always.
In memory of Trap Jack
The Louisiana SPCA staff is filled with love and beautiful memories of Trap Jack. He truly became a permanent fixture at the Japonica Street shelter during his time with us. He acted as a greeter in the lobby to those coming to find a new pet, kept staff company by lounging in their offices and left an undeniable mark on everyone’s heart that he came into contact with. We can’t imagine a better home for Trap Jack than with Emily. They were a perfect match in every way and for that, we take comfort in knowing his life was filled with joy and happiness.