- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina brought two tail-wagging, four-legged survivors to the steps of the Washington National Cathedral yesterday to receive a blessing bestowed on all God’s creatures.

Louisiana natives Bayou and Smores — two dogs rescued from the ravaged Gulf Coast — took part in the cathedral’s annual Blessing of the Animals in the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.

During an evening service, the cathedral’s clergy prayed over, and sprinkled holy water on, each of the more than 100 dogs, cats, parakeets and gerbils. Intermittent barking punctuated the cool air.

“Every little bit helps in keeping them safe,” said Christie Smith, of Waldorf, Md., who brought two dogs, Jade and Hailey. “Since I’m Catholic, I certainly would like them to be blessed.”

The annual rite took on a special significance with the presence of Bayou and Smores, who are among 55 pets from the Gulf Coast put up for adoption through the Washington Animal Rescue League.

“It shows not only the need to take care of people, but to take care of all God’s creatures,” said Elizabeth Mullen, a spokeswoman for the National Cathedral. “It’s extra special this year to be able to include our Katrina friends.”

The league brought Bayou, a 2-year-old spitz mix; Smores, a 4-year-old mixed breed, and the other animals to the District from the Gulf Coast over two trips to the New Orleans area. The league patrolled neighborhoods in boats and searched abandoned houses.

In the end, the group rescued more than 800 animals from the region. About 1,000 animals were treated by a veterinarian affiliated with the league.

“It was bittersweet,” said Scotlund Haisley, executive director of the league, who led the two rescue operations. “You would find an animal alive, but their condition was horrible.”

Bayou and Smores were evacuated and placed in shelters ahead of time, but Mr. Haisley said most animals weren’t so lucky.

About one in every eight pets the teams found were alive 30 days after the hurricane hit. Most were emaciated and close to dying.

“You’re rescuing and saving lives,” said Erika Leckington, the league’s director of animal welfare, who also went to New Orleans. “But you’re also seeing the animals you can’t save.”

The 55 animals brought back to the league’s facility in Northwest consisted of 38 dogs — many dubbed “waterdogs” because they were found swimming or scavenging among the New Orleans floodwaters — 15 cats, a gerbil and a pot-bellied pig.

Many of the animals had pre-existing health conditions not related to Katrina and 10 of the 38 dogs had heartworm, Mr. Haisley said. In some cases, the floodwaters helped save the animals’ lives.

“It must have been high in protein,” he said.

The teams administered IVs to the rescued animals and gave them high-quality food. The ones brought back to the District were put up for adoption, and Mr. Haisley said there are still 10 cats and eight dogs displaced by Katrina and looking for new homes.

“Our efforts will continue as long as these animals need to be adopted,” Mr. Haisley said. “These animals are well-deserving of a blessing. These guys have just come out of hell.”

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