Sit and Stay: Pets Wait Out ND Flood in Shelters

By: By JAMES MacPHERSON
By: By JAMES MacPHERSON

WEST FARGO, N.D. (AP) - Chased from their homes by the menacing Red River, Davis and Delbert took a break from their cramped quarters inside a makeshift shelter to enjoy a walk in the brisk air. They had reason to feel a little frisky: They're Labrador Retrievers.

Almost 200 dogs, cats, horses, potbelly pigs - even a goat and a mule - are hunkered down in a fairgrounds pavilion, cared for by volunteers after their owners had to make the agonizing decision to leave them behind.

Emergency shelters and many hotels don't accept pets, and neighbors and friends taking in evacuees often don't have room for their pets, too. That has led to a lot of tears at Red River Valley Fairgrounds Animal Shelter.

"These are their four-legged babies. It's like leaving their children behind," said Nukhet Hendricks, executive director of the Fargo-Moorhead Humane Society. "It's been very emotional."

The Humane Society, along with Adopt-A-Pet and emergency managers in Fargo and Moorhead, Minn., turned a pavilion normally
used for horse and cattle shows into a flood shelter and started accepting pets late last week.

Fargo has been a city under seige by record flooding caused by an enormous winter snowfall that melted and combined with more precipitation.

By Sunday, the shelter housed 71 dogs, 79 cats, 37 horses and a variety of other furry evacuees. Another 200 "pocket pets" such as guinea pigs, birds and rabbits were being housed at the Red River Zoo in Fargo. North Dakota State University's Horse Park had between 200 and 300 horses.

Drop-offs at the fairgrounds slowed significantly as the river - which earlier in the week threatened to top levees built up by sandbags to 43 feet - continued its retreat and dropped below 40 feet.

Even so, volunteers streamed in and out of the shelter Sunday at a steady pace, bringing blankets, food and dog toys. Some stayed to pet shaken Chihuahuas, while others walked dogs in shifts or cleaned up messes.

More than 100 volunteers have been helping out at the shelter, including about 30 from other states, said Diann Wellman, a regional director with the Sacramento, Calif.-based United Animal Nations, which is helping in the effort.

"We're to the point that we're asking people not to come," she said.

Dog kennels line the walls in one room and cat cages are stacked two-high in another, although a few quiet canines were staying with the cats, who were spooked by the constant barking and yipping. Horses get their own corrals.

Two semitrailers full of donated pet food, kitty litter, blankets, bleach, treats and toys were parked outside the facility.

Bruce Reiten and his wife drove from their home in Litchville, in central North Dakota, Sunday morning to help out. He helped mop up animal messes, while his wife cleaned restrooms.

"We both love animals so we're doing whatever it takes to help out in these troubled times," Reiten said.

Thomas Colville, director of North Dakota State University's veterinary technology program, said local veterinarians and area humane society officials began crafting an emergency plan for
animals following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"We wanted to be proactive," he said. "We wanted to let people know that they don't have to leave their animals behind in a disaster."

Colville and a handful of other veterinarians have inspected every animal that has been brought it.

"I think this is going very well," Colville said. "Some of the animals are stressed out, which is normal, but very few are ill."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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