Within days of deadly tornadoes ripping across Southwest Ohio in early March, Evelyn Black sprang into action.
As the co-founder of Tri-State County Animal Response Team (CART), Black’s mission is to help the four-legged victims of natural disasters – family pets left behind or lost in the chaos.
The Mason real estate agent set about coordinating a donation of 15 tons of dog and cat food from Mason-based Iam’s, and secured a local business to serve as a distribution center. Dozens of people affected by the severe storms lined up over the two-day event to receive donations for their pets.
This is not Black’s first foray into the rage of nature. For years, the 57-year-old has braved the devastating aftermath of floods, hurricanes and tornadoes across the nation to ensure that family pets don’t become the forgotten victims of natural disasters.
She’s camped out in a hot, muggy field in the Gulf Coast area to rescue animals displaced by Hurricane Katrina. She’s donned wading boots and rain gear to help pets in flood-ravaged Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Increasingly, she finds herself treading through feces-infested homes to rescue animals from hoarding situations.
- Photos: Evelyn Black rescues animals
But while Black faces down disasters across the U.S., it’s her efforts at home that may prove to be her toughest battle yet.
A call to action
An animal-lover since childhood, Black has long been involved with various animal rescue organizations, both in California and after moving to Mason 10 years ago.
Then, on Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast with devastating force, packing 145-mile-an-hour winds as the Category 3 storm made landfall. In New Orleans, the massive storm overwhelmed the city’s floodwalls, unleashing tens of billions of gallons of water into St. Bernard Parish and flooding thousands of homes and businesses.
Black remembers watching the dramatic scenes on television of people being rescued or evacuated. Soon, other scenes began to emerge: Sad, starving animals perched on balconies and rooftops; pets staring out of windows waiting for owners who might never return; and dogs swimming frantically through polluted floodwater, desperately trying to reach rescue boats.
For Black, who grew up in California but often visited relatives in New Orleans, it was a call to action. “When I saw that happening in my home state, I felt drawn to go help.”
Black teamed up with friend Bonnie Morrison to spend three one-week trips to the Gulf Coast area as part of what experts would later describe as the largest animal rescue operation in history.
That first trip saw the women camping in a field in Tylerstown, Miss., about 10 miles north of the Louisiana border, in a rescue camp run by Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society. Two follow-up trips positioned them in operations in New Orleans working with Animal Rescue New Orleans.
Black still vividly recalls her first look at the flooded ruins of New Orleans. Even now, nearly seven years later, she’s nearly overcome by the haunting scenes forever etched in her mind.
“The neighborhoods were deserted, there was no life. Houses were demolished, roofs ripped off. Nothing was salvageable. It was like a bomb went off and everything was dead,” she remembers.
The storm, one of the costliest on record, dispersed 1.3 million Gulf Coast households to communities in every state from Maine to Hawaii, according to official reports. With no evacuation provision in place for companion animals, many pet owners found themselves forced – some reportedly at gunpoint – to leave their pets behind.
More than 250,000 pets are believed to have been left stranded by the storm’s destruction. Of those, Black estimates that rescue efforts helped save just 10 to 15 percent.
“Animals were starving and literally eating each other. You’d break down and cry because everything would get to you after a while. It was very intense and very emotional,” she says.
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