Carol Conner leads local volunteers to Gulf Coast to help with animal rescue


One week after Hurricane Katrina laid her devastation along the Gulf Coast, Switzerland County resident Carol Conner sat watching news of the rescue efforts. When a newscaster reported tens of thousands of family pets were left stranded throughout the city of New Orleans, Carol Conner decided: “Those animals are in a crisis. And, I am good in a crisis.”

What followed was high-energy chaos. Carol Conner decided she would take a team to Mississippi or Louisiana to help in the animal rescue. She had to put a team together; get clearance to go into the disaster area; get food and supplies; and prepare to leave — all in a period of four or five days.

Putting the team together was easiest. She quickly assembled a six-person team from Switzerland County. The team, in addition to Carol, includes: Marie Byrd, Cheryl Sieglitz, Judy Gray, Gil Thompson, and Mike Conner.

The most difficult was gaining clearance to enter the disaster area. After a day and a half of emails and telephone calls. Carol Conner was able to talk to Ollie Davidson, who is a disaster relief coordinator. Ollie Davidson directed her to the disaster relief contact for the Humane Society of the United States. Needing a recognized affiliation, Carol Conner asked Swiss Friends of Animals if it would sponsor her team. Swiss Friends quickly agreed. After the exchange of information through several phone calls and emails, clearance for entry was finally approved on Friday, September 9th. The trip was a go.

While Carol Conner was working to obtain clearance; volunteers were pitching in to raise money for gas, gather food, and obtain other needed supplies so that the team would be self sufficient for the entire visit. They would need tents, food and water for themselves, as well as animal food, leashes, and cages to help with the animals.

Sondra Stave took the challenge of gathering enough food and water to allow each member of the team three meals a day for seven days.

When Carol Conner, during a radio interview, explained her teams mission and their need for a good pick-up truck and a flat bottom boat, the phone started ringing. Schani O’Brien from West Harrison, Ohio offered the use of an extended cab pick-up truck. Two flat-bottom boats were donated. Sue Dickerson offered the use of her Tracker.

Area veterinarians contributed money and supplies. Donations for gas ranged from a few dollars to $500. Carol Conner says: “the response has been overwhelming.”

Last Sunday — five days after the idea was hatched, Carol Conner and her team left for Gonzales, Louisiana, which is the staging point for animal rescue efforts in New Orleans and the surrounding area. Once there, they will be “mucking cages, feeding and re-hydrating animals, helping with rescue efforts, and anything else that is needed.”

Carol is prepared to bring rescued animals back to Switzerland County with her if possible. Once rescued, an animal must spend at least 15 days in quarantine at the Gonzalez facility. If she is allowed to bring rescued animals back, there will be a need for foster homes willing to take and foster an animal for up to six months. There will be an attempt to reunite each rescued animal with its original owner.

The team, which had to endure the loss of one of their three vehicles to a blown rear seal and a flat tire on the trailer carrying their boats, is now feverishly working towards the rescue and well being of the animal victims left by Hurricane Katrina.

In order to gain clearance, Carol Conner had to agree to have a team in Gonzalez for 10 days — two five-day periods. Once the team returns to Switzerland County, preparations will begin for a return trip the last week of October. Carol Conner says she has two volunteers for the second trip, but needs three or four more.

Pat Holcomb of Swiss Friends of Animals is coordinating the search for foster homes for Katrina rescued animals. She asks that anyone willing to help call her at 594-3816.

Donations can be sent to Swiss Friends of Animals/Katrina rescue at: P.O. Box 162, Patriot, Indiana, 47038; or delivered to MainSource Bank to the account of Swiss Friends of Animals Relief Fund. In addition, a few donation canisters are being placed in area businesses.

— Mike Cooney