Rescuing the Horses of St. Bernard Parish

Jay Addison, DVM, of New Orleans, La., hasn't been able to see if his home withstood Hurricane Katrina, and the house of one of his partners in veterinary practice, Ronald Giardina, DVM, was completely destroyed. Regardless of their situations, Addison, Giardina, and other area veterinarians, technicians, and volunteers are making their number one priority to rescue horses out of severely affected areas of Louisiana, particularly St. Bernard Parish, which is south of New Orleans.

Addison told The Horse, "I took a crew in yesterday. This area has quite a large horse population, a lot of green space down there and a variety of horses. There are several Thoroughbred trainers that stable down there, and there are a lot of gaited horses, Paso Finos, Walking horses, and Miniature horses. The water is so nasty and high, if they're not on high ground, they're not going to survive.

"The area is pretty inaccessible," Addison continued, explaining that the team had to take a roundabout route to get into the St. Bernard area. "We went on the west bank of the Mississippi area and got in there on a ferry. It's just inundated with water. Some roads are passable, but some are still covered with water and the material that's in it.

"There is a lot of raw sewage, spilled oil, and gas," he explained. "There are a lot of dead, decaying fish in the water and decaying animals that died with the flood.

"A lot of the horses that were in stalls drowned," Addison said.

There isn't a solid count on the number of horses the team has pulled out of St. Bernard, but, "of the horses that were out and lived, we picked up 15 last night and brought them to the vet school (Louisiana State University). They were injured, cut up, had abrasions, and a lot had been standing in that water with so much tin and electrical cables. It's unbelievable what's down in that area."

Addison said that Luis Pomes, a St. Bernard's government maintenance employee, is one of about three people that remained in the Parish area. "He basically commandeered some equipment and some feed for the animals," Addison described. "He's going around and making sure they're being fed and watered. He's showering with water from the Mississippi River.

"He's (Pomes) packing five-gallon buckets of water up the levy and putting it in a container at the top so that the horses can get some fresh water," Addison continued, saying that teams are trying to get aid to Pomes as well.

The team has been able to bring in some additional fresh water, hay, and feed to the many horses in the area that are alive, but that rescuers haven't been able to remove yet. "It's very dire straits for that area," said Addison. "It looks like we're going to get the horses that are there--there's been a tremendous amount of response from volunteers to go in there with us. The survivors...we'll be able to get them out."

Each Day Is New
"In this one area that we're working today (Sept. 7), there are maybe 20 or 30 horses down in there," described Addison. "Every day we have a head count, and we go into that area and we find areas where all of them perished, or we find areas where there are 20-30 horses that we didn't know about that were alive. Every time we go into a new area, it's a new day.

"There's nobody's unbelievable," he related. "There is no communication, no cellular services, and no one who survived to care for the animals. The helpful thing is that it's so flooded, horses are seeking higher ground, and that's either the levees or the roads," which makes them easier to find. "The water is so nasty and high, if they're not on high ground, they're not going to survive."

The team hasn't been able to get to some of the barns that were still under water. "There were a couple of barns that had 60 horses in there each and the roofs are sticking out. We saw quite a few horses that were in the debris--about 30."

Of the horses they've rescued from St. Bernard, 15 or more were Thoroughbreds and there were a few ponies and miniatures. Addison said, "We're going back into today to try and get a small herd of Paso Finos and a couple of young Thoroughbreds that we couldn't get loaded yesterday with the manpower that we had.

"There are no fences," he explained. "The water and the wind pushed the fences down, so there's no place to corral them, and there's a lot of debris around, so we don't want them up some place where they're going to get injured. We have some dart guns (for the two young horses that were uncatchable) if we need them."

A Thoroughbred owner from the area, Marvin Johnson, helped a crew go into Plaquemines Parish, which is on the east side of the Mississippi River. Reportedly five horses were brought out of that area yesterday, but one had to be euthanatized.

Addison recalls two notable rescues from yesterday (Sept. 6): "We went into a place where we didn't think there were any horses or any survivors because we heard most of the horses were locked in stalls. We saw a Thoroughbred mare looked like she'd been nursing a foal, but there was no sign of the foal. She was standing behind some debris on what used to be a feed room, up to her knees in mud with some real serious lacerations around her fetlocks and knees that were very swollen. She just waiting to be rescued...I think she'll live.

"Another two horses found their way up to high ground and were standing out in front of the feed store, waiting for someone to open it up," he continued. "I thought they were pretty smart."

Addison was heading back into St. Bernard Parish when he was talking with The Horse. As his phone eventually lost service, he said, "The horse owners down here basically lost everything and they really need some effort to try and rebuild this industry."