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August 23, 2017
#RedRoverMoment: Volunteers rally to help Katrina victims

As part of our 30th Anniversary celebration we are reflecting on the history of our RedRover Responders program. 12 years ago, Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana and Mississippi, devastating all that it touched and launching our biggest disaster response to date..

Former RedRover Director of Communications Alexis Raymond said that her experience working for RedRover (then United Animal Nations) during its Hurricane Katrina response was “both heartbreaking and gratifying. It was hard to see so many animals suffering and separated from their families. But there was no better feeling than being able to reunite one of these families at our temporary shelter. And it was an honor to meet and work with the dozens of volunteers from around the country who put their lives on hold to help complete strangers.”

All told, nearly 300 volunteers deployed from 38 states and Canada to help 1,870 animals in 5 locations in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. Read about the volunteer experience from this 2005 article from United Animal Nations Journal:

Pam Winslow didn’t let six thousand miles or a twelve hour flight stop her from helping the animal victims of Hurricane Katrina. Winslow, a small business owner from Honolulu, Hawaii, spent a week at UAN’s Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS)* shelter in Jackson, Mississippi. She said her company sponsored her trip and coworkers offered to pick up the slack while she was gone.

“In Hawaii we were so far removed from the disaster that we felt helpless to do anything for the victims,” Winslow explained. “Everyone at work thought that sending me to help the animals would be a good way to get personally involved.”

Winslow was one of the the nearly 300 volunteers from across the United States and Canada who assisted UAN with its emergency sheltering and rescue efforts.

Winslow said her experience was as rewarding as she had hoped it would be, and she wished it were longer. “I really wanted to stay, and I wasn’t the only one,” she said. “A lot of people were in tears when they had to leave.”

Tammy Gunther traveled from Port Orchard, Washington, near Seattle, to volunteer at the EARS shelter in Monroe, Louisiana. Tammy said she discovered UAN while searching for organizations to support.

“I wanted to give whatever I could to the animals because I felt like they were being left behind,” she explained. While on the UAN website, she signed up to deploy as a convergent (non-EARS trained) volunteer if needed. She was.

Tammy’s husband, a software engineer, took the week off to stay home with their two young children so she could volunteer for an experience she describes as “life-changing.”

“I have learned so much from the animals, just looking at how grateful they are despite what they have been through,” she said during her deployment. “You feel like you are part of something that is bigger than you - it is nice to be humbled that way.”

Outside the Monroe shelter, Tammy chatted easily with another volunteer, Amy Estlund of Atlanta, Georgia, as if they were lifelong friends. Yet they had just met the day before when Amy arrived with six other volunteers from the temporary shelter for HUrricane Rita evacuees in Lufkin, Texas. There, Amy said she cared for animals owned by people who had lost everything. “It was heartbreaking, but it motivated me to take really good care of their pets,” she said.

Tammy and AMy said they “clicked immediately” -- an experience common to many volunteers who work so hard together during such stressful and emotional situations.

Kathy Earley, a registered nurse from Kennewick, Washington, deployed for Monroe just two days after completing the EARS training workshops in Portland, Oregon. She spent more than three weeks at the shelter, assuming several leadership roles and using her nursing skills to help the animals.

“The intense therapeutic relationships I had with the dogs was very rewarding, and I also learned a lot about shelter management and shelter psychology for the animals,” she said. “I was really proud to be an EARS volunteer -- to wear that t-shirt felt really great.”

Anthony, an EARS volunteer from Oregon, also said the experience in Monroe was therapeutic -- for him. “The dogs are not judgemental and no matter who you are, they sense that you are a good person and give you unconditional love,” he said. “That’s something so many people in this world are searching for but never find.”

Volunteer "Afterwords":

My deployment was awesome. Thank you for the opportunity. I am anxious to serve again.

The experience as part of your team has refocused my life and convinced me to follow my heart and continue to work with animals. I still feel terrific inside.

The hope and trust in the eyes of the dogs touched my heart forever.

Thank you for the best week of my life -- one that I would do and will do again and again and again.

I was so impressed by the commitment and determination of the volunteers that were in Monroe.

Thanks for providing me with this amazing opportunity...it truly was a life-affirming and extraordinary experience.

____

Share your own #RedRoverMoment by emailing info@redrover.org, and we may feature your story as part of our 30th Anniversary celebration!

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