By Mindy Nelson, RedRover Responders volunteer
I did the RedRover Responders training in Illinois in 1994, and very shortly afterwards the flood hit in Liberty, Texas. Oddly enough, I had a plane ticket to Texas because I was going on a long weekend vacation - but instead of going on vacation, I deployed to the disaster. The memories are as vivid as ever:
As we arrived in Liberty, the strangest feeling to me was seeing everyone evacuating - and only the disaster volunteers and military were allowed to come in. I remember thinking, "Hmm, what am I thinking?!" There weren't many roads open, so the only vehicles we heard were helicopters, which made me feel like we were in a war zone.
A local resident who was a retired doctor let us use his home as an area to set up the shelter. We had dog runs outside and cats inside. This was a small town family doctor, and the chair in the patient’s room - and the equipment - was like walking into an old movie!
At that time we did both rescue and sheltering. We had no place to stay except the retired doctor’s house at night. A fellow volunteer and I made the decision to sleep in the car because there wasn't much room in the house. It rained ALL night the first night, and I remember thinking that we were going to wake up and be floating down the street in our car! Fortunately, that wasn't the case.
During the night, we were woken up because a cow was stuck on a bridge - a TRAIN bridge. The poor thing was standing on a narrow area as the train went by, but too afraid to go into the water and drown, so the trains were just going right along beside her....close beside her. A local person offered their boat, so a group of military guys and others went out and were able to coax the cow onto the boat and to safety. (I did not join them on that excursion - but was so excited to hear of her being rescued safely!) I was so impressed by the kindness of the military people, especially one higher-up who helped us on the rescues with vehicles and manpower.
We dealt with more rain - everywhere around us was underwater. Because we were the only dry area around, the red ants decided to join us...and it created a huge problem for the dogs outside in kennels. I remember thinking that you can never be fully prepared - things you don't expect WILL pop up. There was one sweet dog who wouldn't let anyone come near - he was shaking and afraid. I kept trying to calm him, and when I finally won his trust, he wouldn't let me let go or leave him. I think I cleaned out his kennel much more than necessary after that bonding… It was a good thing there was a "no adoption" rule or I would have brought that sweet dog home!
There were also several kittens that were rescued - with no mother. We took hours trying to feed them with little droplets through syringes that the retired doctor loaned to us. After returning home, I cried when I learned that most of the kittens did not make it. I was also upset that I hadn't taken any pictures of the kittens - they had left such an imprint on my heart, along with the dog.
Years later, I was sitting on the floor at my grandmother’s house leafing through her magazines and chatting while my kids played with toys on the floor nearby. I picked up a Midwest Living Magazine, flipped through and saw an article about UAN. I read it and put it aside. I have no idea why I didn't notice during the first read - and why I picked it up to look again - but at second glance, I saw the picture from the article and thought, “Look at the kitten - reminds me of the ones from Liberty.” Then I realized that the picture was of ME holding one of those precious kittens. I couldn't believe the random luck of me picking up that magazine of my grandmother’s! I was thrilled to have a picture of one of the kittens - they really pierced my heart, and although we weren't able to save them all, it lit a fire inside of me that I would always do whatever it took to try my best to save any creature possible.
There were great things - and difficult things - but overall the experience stuck with me in ways that I'm so thankful for...and I will NEVER forget that sweet dog and the kittens from that rescue.
It was really an experience I'll never forget and one I'm truly grateful for. I still have regrets about those kittens and "What if I had only..." I wish I had been able to stay longer, do more....but then I think about that dog - and giving him comfort in his time of extreme fright - and it puts a smile on my face.
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