Miaow. Miaow. Miaooow. Times 18 hours.
That's what animal lovers Whitney Jenkins and Christy Butcher endured on the return trip to Richmond after a pet-saving mission to Mississippi.
At least only one Katrina-rescued cat screamed the whole way, they note. The other 26 were better behaved. Make that 28.
"We had one that had her babies on the way," Butcher says.
"Outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee," adds Jenkins, at Cowboy's Gas Station.
The two women, co-workers at staffing agency Aquent, traveled to Mississippi Sept. 14 to help care for pets abandoned or surrendered in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Why subject themselves to five days straight of mewling and barking?
"We're just two ordinary animal lovers," Butcher says. She has five cats of her own, and Jenkins has three cats and a dog. Both had donated money to the Humane Society after the storm but felt that wasn't enough.
Butcher and Jenkins sent out e-mails asking for donations to take south and received an overwhelming response $7,000 both from strangers and from Butcher's Fan neighbors, who took up a collection. Fellow animal lovers from Richmond groups Shelter Adoption & Rescue Efforts (SHARE) and Cat's Cradle, as well as Betty Baugh's Animal Clinic, formed a caravan with Butcher and Jenkins for the 24-hour trip to Hattiesburg, Miss.
There, about 1,200 animals were being housed in a massive shelter, with about 100 to 200 arriving daily. Finding the site well-stocked and well-run, Jenkins and Butcher decided to seek out smaller groups that might be more in need of their help. They headed to Pearlington, Miss., where they met four women from a Florida rescue group that had set up a makeshift shelter and desperately needed the crates, food and cat traps from Richmond. They then returned to Hattiesburg and spent a few days caring for dogs there.
The shelter's goal was to connect lost pets with their owners, "But I will tell you there was a whole lot more coming in than going out," Butcher says. She and Jenkins heard of only two reunions while they were there. Shelter operators placed a 30-day quarantine on animals before they could be adopted, but allowed the two women to take 27 surrendered cats back with them to Richmond. SHARE and Betty Baugh's have since brought back even more animals.
Some cats have been placed with foster families in Richmond, while others are at Betty Baugh's. Jenkins and Butcher urge Richmonders to give money to animal charities involved with the rescue efforts not just now, but months down the road. "People forget," Butcher says, but the need will remain. Melissa Scott Sinclair
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