- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2004

RICHMOND (AP) — Marie Gratton returns to the Hanover Associates trailer park every day, nearly a week after flash floods resulted in almost all the homes being condemned.

She doesn’t live there. She’s searching for animals in need.

Miss Gratton lives in the vicinity and has spent years rescuing stray and feral cats from the neighborhood of 65 trailers. When the remnants of Tropical Storm Gaston dumped torrential rain on the area, she set out to save more.

“The people who live here — their priority has been finding a home for themselves and their families,” said Miss Gratton, a volunteer with Cat Adoption and Rescue Efforts (CARE) and the Henrico Humane Society. “Animals are sometimes the last thing on people’s minds.”

Most of the residents were forced to flee their homes on Aug. 30 as the water rose quickly inside their trailers. In the low-lying areas of the park, levels reached 5 feet. Grabbing what they could as they ran for higher ground, some left their pets behind.

The county since has condemned nearly all the trailers. Most of the residents have been back to salvage what they can, but some have not claimed their pets.

The flash flood, Miss Gratton said, swept away several kittens and cats. But every day, she continues to look for survivors and care for those found. The food she leaves is sometimes gone, giving her hope that several cats are hiding but safe.

She plans to put out humane traps, so she can catch those too scared to show themselves. They will be placed in foster care, until new homes can be found. She and other volunteers with CARE and the Henrico Humane Society already have found permanent homes or foster care for four cats and two dogs.

“What she’s been doing is just wonderful,” said John Cumbia, a trailer-park resident who was forced to leave his 8-month-old Dalmatian, Poppy, behind when he evacuated. “It’s a whole lot of relief knowing my puppy will be OK.”

Mr. Cumbia moved in with relatives, but the apartment where he is staying does not allow pets. A maintenance man and Miss Gratton have looked after Poppy, and a few days ago, Miss Gratton found a new home for the dog.

“It was hard giving him up,” Mr. Cumbia said. “But I need a safe place for him to be. I need to think of him, too. I need to do what’s best for the dog.”

Miss Gratton, campaign assistant at the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, has volunteered with animal-rescue groups since the mid-1990s.

One of her main projects has been the Hanover Associates trailer park, a neighborhood with a large population of stray and feral cats.

She thinks there are more than a dozen cats and kittens still living at the trailer park. She won’t stop, she said, until all of them are saved.

“If I don’t do it, who will?” she said. “This type of volunteer work takes a piece of your heart every time. But my heart keeps growing, so I know it will be OK.”

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