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Airlift saves stranded animals from floodwaters
San Francisco Chronicle


September 12, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO - Animal lovers have organized a major airlift of cats and dogs orphaned by Hurricane Katrina.

The first group of nervous and weary travelers left Baton Rouge, La., on Sunday on a chartered Continental Airlines plane. The plane flew first to San Diego, where it dropped off 50 dogs, and then to San Francisco International Airport, where it delivered 30 pooches and 20 kittens, said officials from the Marin, Calif., Humane Society, which is helping shelter the animals.

"Their future will definitely be brighter than their past," said Diane Allevato, executive director of the Marin Humane Society.

Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens and his wife, Madeleine, paid the estimated $50,000 fee to charter the jet on Sunday, and donors are being sought to fund the transportation later this week for another 3,000 animals, with 1,000 each going to the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego and Houston.

Madeleine Pickens' sister, Christine Penrod, of San Diego, was on Sunday's furry flight and said the Pickenses got involved after hearing that Louisiana animal shelters were overflowing with abandoned animals. Some existing shelters had to be shut down due to floods, and the remaining ones were jammed with animals orphaned by the storm. The situation is expected to grow worse as relief workers gradually pick up more animals wandering the streets of New Orleans or find them trapped in homes, she said.

"They really need to be rescued," said Penrod, one of the airlift organizers. She stepped off the plane carrying a brown cocker spaniel. Some of the dogs traveled in the cargo section, while others traveled in plastic carriers in the plane's passenger compartment.

The plane was greeted by camera crews, several dozen animal-shelter workers and a dozen trucks labeled with signs marked "Operation Orphans of the Storm" on the tarmac near the south gate of the airport.

Volunteers and staff of the Marin Humane Society and the Sacramento SPCA photographed and tagged the animals and took them back to their local shelters. Agency representatives said they hope to place the animals in foster families, and put them up for adoption if the pets' owners cannot be found.

There were originally supposed to be as many as 200 dogs on the plane. But Penrod said Louisiana state officials blocked most of the animals rescued from the hurricane from being taken out of state, citing the need to quarantine the animals for 30 days, in case they are ill.

Despite the quarantine order, T. Boone Pickens personally drove a flatbed truck to the makeshift shelter in Gonzales, La., where he helped load the truck with several dozen animals and took them to the airport, Penrod said.

The quarantine order was canceled later that day, said Marin Humane Society spokeswoman Sheri Cardo.

Some of the animals on the flight also came from a regular shelter that was overloaded. But those animals had all been orphaned before the hurricane struck, Penrod said.

Andrew Rowan, executive vice president of operations for the Humane Society of the United States, estimated there may be 50,000 or more additional dogs or cats in New Orleans that must be rescued and brought to the Gonzales shelter.


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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