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December 19, 2011

Into the Disaster Zone: Flashback

HSUS Animal Rescue Team member recalls a memorable mission

All Animals magazine

  • Sandy Williams/Tunica Humane Society

Spring 2011

Richard Osborn tried desperately to get Ally into a carrier, but the terrified cat scratched and bit at him. “She wasn’t going in that cage,” he remembers. “She, like, ate my arms up. ... I did the best I could, and so I had to let her go. And then I couldn’t catch her.”

With the Mississippi River threatening to overflow nearby Tunica Cutoff Lake, officials were preparing to lock down the Osborns’ Mississippi community. Eventually, the family had no choice: They just had to go. They had to leave Ally behind.

Turns out, they weren’t the only ones, and in early May, the Tunica Humane Society requested The HSUS’s help in retrieving several loose cats from the flooded neighborhood. That’s how Shaw ended up in a fire department boat, navigating double-digit-deep flood waters, preparing to chase cats across rooftops.

After spotting one hiding under an overhang, Shaw and fellow HSUS responder Tara Loller backed the boat up to the far side of the trailer home. Stepping carefully across the roof, Shaw snuck up on the cat, but she slipped underneath his net and took off running, leaping into the water. Fortunately, they’d planned for this, and Loller was right there, in the boat, to scoop her up to safety.

Alternating roles—one climbing porch rails and roofs, the other providing backup in the boat—they brought six cats back with them that day. “That was definitely one of the coolest rescue days,” Loller says, “just because you knew that if we didn’t get them, they were surely going to die.”

One of those cats was Ally, rescued from a neighbor’s roof. Richard and his wife, Dorothy, had known she was at least alive, having sent food with Tunica Humane Society president Debbie Pegram, who boated into their neighborhood. But still, they worried. Dorothy was convinced no one would be able to catch her, and she feared Ally might eventually starve.

Then they got the call: Ally was safe.

“We were glad,” Richard says with a chuckle. “We worried about her. I mean, she was our cat and we took care of her for four or five years.”

As he spoke, in early October, Ally lay curled up on a front-porch chair. The Osborns had just moved into their new home, now 14 feet off the ground, and Ally was fast asleep, home again—exactly the outcome the Animal Rescue Team strives for. “It’s returning those animals back to the people who have lost everything else,” Shaw says, “that really makes what we do worthwhile.” 

Read how disaster planning for pets has changed since Hurricane Katrina »

Read more from this issue of All Animals »

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