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Love heals

 How love healed the interior wounds of a Katrina dog

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. Whole neighborhoods were destroyed and buildings leveled, including the building housing the Louisiana SPCA. 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.


The 263 animals of the Louisiana SPCA were safely at the Houston SPCA while the worst natural disaster this country has ever seen raged on, completely destroying the shelter that once resided on Japonica Street in the Ninth Ward. Even without a facility to speak of, the Louisiana SPCA knew there would be animals in New Orleans suffering and struggling to survive. Animals like Chaz who still needed a place of refuge from the horrors he had been subjected to in the wake of the storm. The Louisiana SPCA returned two days after the storm and set up a temporary rescue center at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, Louisiana.


While Lamar-Dixon would serve as a temporary place of refuge, the critical task of building a new facility specialized for housing animals had to begin immediately. Animals rescued in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were brought to Lamar-Dixon and given medical treatment, fresh food and water and loved by hundreds of staff and volunteers. Lamar-Dixon provided a great temporary safe haven, but the Louisiana SPCA desperately needed to get back to New Orleans. More than two months later the Louisiana SPCA moved into another temporary location, a warehouse on Thayer Street in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans. While at the Thayer Street warehouse, construction began on what would become the Louisiana SPCA’s current campus, while the rescue efforts still continued.


No one knows for sure exactly what happened to Chaz or what his living conditions were before the storm; he was just one of the 15,500 animals rescued in the aftermath of Katrina. When Chaz was found by the Louisiana SPCA humane law enforcement officers in a rural area of the Westbank, he was in a complete state of panic and was displaying behaviors of a wild dog. He lunged at the officers possibly because he had been deprived of human interaction for so long or because he had been a victim of abuse. Either way, the officers were determined to get him to safety.


ChazUpon arrival at the Thayer Street warehouse, Chaz was a mere 35 lbs, far from the 80 lbs average weight of a Chow Chow/German Shepherd mix. After an initial veterinarian exam, it was believed that Chaz had survived on a diet of roaches and any other scraps he could find. On top of that, Chaz was heartworm positive. Heartworms are a deadly parasite spread to dogs and cats via mosquitoes that thrive in the South’s warm, humid, climate and can be deadly if left untreated. On top of all of this, Chaz was human aggressive. It was clear that he had a long road in front of him, but thankfully, he would have help.


Helen Hester was one of the amazing volunteers that helped the Louisiana SPCA during the recovery after Katrina. She made Chaz her personal mission, working with him day after day, trying to re-establish his trust in humans. Helen visited Chaz in the Rehab Tent, a secluded, quiet area in the Thayer Street warehouse for the more traumatized animals rescued post-Katrina. The Rehab Tent was set up by behaviorists as a way to help ease the stress that these severely frightened animals were undoubtedly feeling. The animals rescued had been on their own for months, fending for themselves and struggling to survive. Before being rescued, they were surrounded by water, loud noises and a crumbling city without anyone there to comfort and reassure them. Staff and volunteers worked relentlessly and provided that feeling of comfort for the animals brought to the Rehab Tent and all the animals that came to the rescue center. Volunteers like Helen read to the animals and spent time with them in an effort to gradually reintroduce them to a person’s presence and begin the healing process. This is what Helen did for Chaz.


Chaz at Reading with RoverIn the beginning, Chaz was highly barrier aggressive. He would bark and lunge when anyone approached his kennel. This did not deter Helen. She continued to follow the socialization steps recommended by the behaviorists. She read to him daily, patiently waiting for him to trust her enough to approach her without aggression on his own. This would be a clear sign that he wanted to be near her and took pleasure in her company. This went on for six months and with very slow progress. After dedicating so much time to him and seeing his potential, Helen made the decision to adopt Chaz and continue working with him from home.


Through all the trauma and fear, Chaz is now a confident, friendly, dog dedicated to serving the community. The one-on-one care provided by Helen saved his life and gave him the opportunity to help others. Today, you can find Chaz and Helen giving Show and Tail presentations in local classrooms or providing furry company to children and teens with cancer. Chaz is also a welcome guest at libraries where he helps children to develop their reading skills with the Reading with Rover program. In addition, senior residents at nearby assisted living homes often enjoy regular visits and kisses from Chaz. Chaz represents the spirit that humans and animals possess that allows them to rise from hardship and go on to do amazing things.

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