Cover Story

When Katrina washed away New Orleans East, it took with it neighborhoods that Tasha Prosper's family had lived in for generations.

"It's a weird feeling to have no real home to go back to," said Prosper, a Columbia University Teachers College counseling psychology student whose family has scattered to Florida, Texas and New York. "It's a loss of community that really hurts."

Prosper felt the loss keenly while attending APA's 2006 Annual Convention in her home town, but found her city's community spirit soldiering on in an unexpected place: Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO).

During the convention, Prosper and close to 50 others-psychologists and their families and psychology students-volunteered there. While most cleaned cages and petted, fed and walked animals lost during Katrina, Prosper and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign graduate student Amanda Beers ran a resiliency workshop for the animals' caregivers.

ARNO workers-all local volunteers-have tended the animals day and night from the beginning, while dealing with their own devastated lives, said P. Elizabeth Anderson, who suggested psychologists' convention aid to ARNO. She enlisted Mary Lou Randour, PhD, a psychologist at the Doris Day Animal Foundation, and Douglas Haldeman, PhD, an APA Board of Directors member in private practice in Seattle, to co-chair the project.

"We wanted to do something for the animals and those who take care of them," said Anderson, a writer and wife of APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD.

Workshop leaders Prosper and Beers mostly listened to participants talk with each other. The workers have experienced tragedy: Following Katrina's hit they've seen dozens of sick, injured and dying animals and struggled with a colleague's recent suicide. But they've also rekindled the warmth and togetherness that Prosper associates with home.

"In their tears and in their laughter I saw the spirit of New Orleans," said Prosper.

ARNO workers have rescued 4,400 animals this year, on top of the 20,000 other groups saved right after the storm. However, up to 50,000 animals still need rescuing. The city's only animal rescue organization, ARNO operates 4,000 feeding stations citywide for stray animals. It also rounds up animals and provides food, shelter and veterinary care in a converted coffee warehouse in Jefferson Parish. ARNO tries to reunite lost pets locally with their people, but must transport some rehabilitated animals to new homes across the country.

The psychologist volunteers helped to rehabilitate some of those animals for adoption. Many focused on comforting and socializing dogs and cats in ARNO's mainly outdoor shelter. The work was fun but hot, said volunteer Connie Chan, PhD, who walked dogs in 100-plus degree heat and heavy humidity. Some amiable dogs had clearly been people's pets, said the University of Massachusetts Boston psychology professor. Others were wild and fearful.

Haldeman tried some dog-whispering with an especially challenging case: Firepole, a pit bull-Dalmation mix. "She was so homely she was adorable, and she was anxious and had obviously been maltreated," said Haldeman. "By the end of the shift, she was leaping in my arms and kissing my face."

Haldeman's only regret was not being able to take any ARNO dogs home with him. "I could have if my house weren't already so full of Samoyeds," he said. Haldeman breeds Samoyeds and, in fact, raised money for the psychologist volunteers' transportation through the Sammamish and American Kennel Clubs.

Another psychologist volunteer, Laura Palmer, PhD, of Seton Hall University, worked with a tiny terrier mix puppy, Gizmo, who appeared terrified at being separated from his brothers and sisters. Palmer petted and walked him on a leash until he relaxed. A family adopted Gizmo the next day.

Randour volunteered at the shelter four out of five days and bonded with a skinny year-old German Shepherd mix. "She'd just arrived off the streets and was feral and shy," says Randour. "They called her 'Joy.' I think they were hoping it might be a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Further Reading

Visit ARNO online at Donations can be made and adoptions initiated through the Web site.

Dr. Laura Palmer petted tiny puppy Gizmo until he relaxed. He was adopted the next day.