Thibodaux church sheltering pets
By Millie Ball
THIBODAUX - The young woman from New Orleans, her 7-year-old daughter and
their pet poodle were sleeping under the altar at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic
Center on the Nicholls State University campus.
The Rev. Jim Morris said he gazed down at the family that had been banned
because of the dog from the regular shelter for victims of Hurricane Katrina. He
told a colleague, "Our altar has never been adorned more beautifully than it is
with these people seeking the sanctuary of God."
Morris has a dog named Blue. He understands.
"I went over to the school shelter Tuesday night and saw all these people
outside, looking dejected and clinging to their animals," said the slender
44-year-old priest with friendly blue eyes and sandy hair he hasn't had time to
comb lately. "They wouldn't let them inside. So I said, bring them on over to
The first night there were 130 people with "all these rottweilers, poodles,
Chihuahuas, cats, birds, even a pot-bellied pig. It was unbelievable. We had no
kennels or cages - PetSmart and Petco donated them later - and people slept on
the terrazzo floor and on the pews. We had no electricity. It was like Noah's
Sunday, there were 53 people still here with their pets. People chatted with
one another, sitting on mattresses donated by locals, kennels holding their pets
beside them. Volunteers and owners were returning with the leashed animals after
their walks. One volunteer chased a Chihuahua that got lose. Others smiled since
they'd been in that situation too, one time or another. Volunteers served
burgers. So many donated clothes that were piled on long tables in the hall, it
was hard to navigate through it.
"Some people say we're stupid because we wouldn't leave our animals," said
Cora DeRussy. "It's why I'm in the predicament I am now, but I'm glad I'm
An employee at Dillard's in eastern New Orleans, she lived on Vicksburg
Street in Lakeview, and watched from her perch in the kitchen sink while one of
her dogs swam in the water dumped in her house from the broken canal, and
eventually drowned. Wearing a donated blue muumuu Sunday, the 65-year-old
DeRussy said when two men in a boat rescued her Tuesday afternoon, she got them
to row around the house until she spotted Amber, her collie, its head poking out
of a window.
Now Amber, who swallowed a lot of polluted water, is at Ridgefield Animal
Hospital nearby, recovering from her ordeal. Dr. Paul Seemann Jr., a
veterinarian, shook his head. There would be no bill for any of these refugees'
pets - or almost anyone else from New Orleans last week.
Carole Montet is another of the many people here who are grateful for the
Catholic Center. There was no way the recently retired special education
teacher, her sister, Patricia, and their 80-year-old mother, Lillian, were going
to leave their cat in the attic of their flooded house on 28th Street in
Lakeview, a block from the 17th Street Canal.
McGinty, an orange tabby, was oblivious to the Montets' story as she slept
curled up on a floral cushion in the cluttered office at the Catholic Center.
Carole Montet, who said her brother in Mississippi had borrowed her car so they
couldn't leave, looked through oversized tan-rim eye glasses and told how she
punched out the ventilator in their roof of their one-story home to crawl out;
how the two men who rescued them in a boat lifted her mother out, and then
paddled them to the roof of a nearby two-story house - but the water went up 4
feet in 20 minutes. So they paddled the boat to another rooftop, and eventually
reached a rescue point where Lillian lay in the sun for four hours until a bus
arrived and took them to Thibodaux.
"Leave McGinty?" Carole Montet asked, as if that were a ridiculous question.
"This cat helped my mother get through her hip surgery; McGinty inspired my
"She's family," interjected Lillian Montet from her wheelchair where she said
in the air-conditioning, wearing a black flowered dress, a green parka and a
heavy knit, smoky blue sweater.
"It was terrible," said Patricia Montet, who's in her 30s. She lifted both
hands to cover her brown eyes.
"Our animals are the only semblance of normalcy we have left," Carole Montet
said. "You've lost your home. You've lost your job. You have no possessions."
"I didn't get my pictures or my albums," said her mother sadly. "The animal
is the only semblance of your old life," Carole said.
Jack Weber, who lives on St. Denis Street near the Fair Grounds in Mid-City,
got out with his family too. That includes his wife, Ollie, 56; their daughter,
Tamara, 30; and their mixed dalmatian-retriever mix, Spartica. "That's my
Their roof blew off, then the sheetrock fell as the family moved from room to
room "until there wasn't more room," said Weber, 58. A wiry man with a neat
moustache and gray hair, he works as a bank messenger for the Board of
Then the ceiling fell down, and they managed to get in their little boat -
avoiding five or six guys chasing them and trying to steal it - and took on a
neighbor Leon Gomez, who's in a wheelchair, and Gomez' rottweiler, ODB.
After getting no help from a man in an official looking boat, another man
paddled by in a child's inflatable plastic wading pool, and he told them to get
to I-610, where they slept on the concrete until their rescue the next day by
helicopter. Weber's wife and daughter got separated, but at least they know the
Weber was smiling Sunday and wearing new pants, socks, a Pride of Arcadia
T-shirt and his old shoes he said can walk over nails. He was on his way to
Laredo, Texas, to join up with his family. He also wore a new wooden cross he
picked up at the center. "I wear it for good luck," he said.
And he'll arrive with Spartica. Gomez still has his rottweiler, which Seemann
said is one of the largest at the shelter, maybe 160 pounds.
Seemann, 48, who grew up in Metairie and went to John Curtis and St. John
Lutheran High Schools, has gone to the shelter several times to check on the
pets and give shots. And he's also treated other pets from New Orleans, mainly
ones who have gotten in fights.
Saturday night, he had five emergency calls after dog fights, all at homes
where several families gathered with their various dogs. The normal rate is one
every two or three weeks. "I think it happens when "the dogs are establishing
new territory and dominance." On the information form, one New Orleans resident
wrote down "under water" when asked for his address, Seemann said.
Morris looked happy and content as he looked over his temporary flock of
humans and pets. "Animals calm people down. And pet lovers usually have gentle
hearts. If you go in the other shelter, people tend to sit still and idle. Here,
there's a lot going on. And what's wonderful is the way our students are
volunteering and helping wherever they can. For us this is a mission that helps
the evacuees and their pets as well as our students who are here taking care of