THE RESCUE OF MISS MUFFET…..December 2005
On Christmas Eve, someone at the triage was playing a Christmas CD featuring “Christmas in New Orleans” as I headed towards the Mash-type shower to wash off the day’s toxins from the Lower Ninth Ward. A Christmas in New Orleans noone had ever anticipated, I mused. Once in my cold shower, I could no longer hear the CD, but was serenaded by the yelping of some puppies in the puppy ward just around the corner from the shower…a perfect rendition of “this is why you’re here”, I smiled.
Christmas Day there were only a few volunteers, so I headed out alone to replenish feeding stations in the Upper Ninth Ward. I celebrated via the Christmas cheer doled out by the Red Cross trucks whose drivers drove around the neighborhoods in reindeer hats passing out hot meals to humans, as I doled out meals for hundreds of abandoned dogs and cats.
At dark, I decided to go to the desolate Lower Ninth Ward to drive very slowly through the area’s streets, holding and shining my spotlight through the unrolled passenger window in search of life. Although not advisable alone at night, I just wasn’t ready to go back to the station.
Suddenly as I turned to check the road ahead of me, I saw a petite black cat slink across in front of me. In the blare of my headlights, I saw a collar. She now huddled in a yard against some debri as I called out to her. One tentative meow answered me. She was frightened. Humankind had abandoned her world, leaving her alone and on her own. Could she trust the existence of the human voice she now heard? Apparently not yet. She had hidden or left the area, and I went back to the triage center empty-handed.
Every night for 4 more nights, I returned with a partner to leave a trap. Each time I saw her in the same area. The occasional eerie creaking of metal clutter settling deeper to the earth, the hissing of the still charged electrical lines, and the dead tree leaves rustling in the wind and clinking against a hodgepodge of debri hanging in them - made an odd musical motley. But in the silences between, came a dainty and capturing sound ...the delicate tinkling of a tiny fairy bell, adorning a cat collar, charmed the night air. How blessed the air must have been, I thought, for the past 4 months…to have resonated with this chiming that heralded every movement of a precious life that had survived!
Each time I heard the bell, I hurried to the yard she was in to leave the trap. But before even setting the trap down, I would suddenly hear her bell several houses down, where I would hurry to move the trap. No sooner had I placed it on the ground, than I would hear her bell back at the first house. I could tell from the joyful patterning of the music, that my newly ordained Miss Muffet moved skillfully and assuredly among the rubble. Night after night she teased and alluded me, and I would return over and over to an empty trap. I was taunted by her sweet and unique energy.
I found that I could feel the personality of each animal I saw and how they had re-created their lives amid the rubble and chaos. They went about experiencing life, honoring being alive as best they could. I wondered how many of we humans when we lose everything, when our lives are so drastically and suddenly stripped, could or would so graciously embrace life enough to accept the opportunity for transformation…the chance to create reality a-new? I watched cats slip gracefully through the slits of dilapidated doors and through the spaces between the contorted debri. Somewhere amidst their grief, their fear, their near starvation for weeks (before rescuers were allowed into the area to set up food/water stations), they had now come to accept that this desolate world had become their universe...it was what life had dealt them, and some of them (the healthy ones) were valiantly surviving for now.
On the fourth day as we drove through to scope out our further rescue attempts in daylight areas, we shockingly found the street blocked off and several large bulldozers at work. This is Miss Muffet’s street, my quickened heartbeat notified me! After a flurry of adamant flagging down of the workers, we were granted the early halting of the bulldozing since stopping time for the day was only 15 minutes away. We were informed that the work would resume early the next morning. That night, we set the trap, offering the usual fare: tuna, mackerel, canned food, catnip. I sent pictures and messages to her of our intentions, and the options that she had.
Upon returning to check the trap, it was closed...but Miss Muffet was not inside. She was behind the trap savoring the food trail we had made…apparently she had somehow tripped the trap without being inside. Since she had seen and heard the door slam down, my heart ached that now she might never go into the trap. She ran from us as we re-set the trap, and then we went back to our car. “This is my last night in New Orleans, your last chance for rescue, it’s your choice”, I concentrated
and messaged to her heart and mind.
We returned to a still open trap, but this time Ms. Muffet was lying beside (and outside) the trap, her paws curled under her. She was making the decision of a life-time. Like I, had she found something sacred among the seeming desolation? All of these animals, had their souls deepened here as had mine, so that they never wanted to leave? Was she studying my soul and my intentions?
We drove several houses away again, to give her more time. I couldn't bear to think of leaving town knowing she was still out there with the bulldozers picking up the piles of debri she lived in, very possibly with her inside of one. And with thousands of animals to rescue, and only handfuls of rescuers, noone knew when or if other rescuers would ever get to her again.
I took a deep breath when we returned later, before I shone the flashlight towards the trap. There peering out at us from within the closed cage, was a beautiful small black cat…as she turned to watch us, I saw the collar…it was Miss Muffet.
I found myself suddenly and profusely sobbing while dancing wildly in the street underneath the brightly star-laden sky…offering my hands, my heart to the universe…thank you, thank you I chanted over and over. I, Jack, and the powers that be had saved the life of a precious survivor from the upcoming bulldozing or from a toxic and solitary existence, and possible ultimate starvation. It was a level and mixture of satisfaction and gratitude I had never known. I knew it was important to me to rescue Miss Muffet, but I hadn’t known just how important until the mission had been achieved. With our very still and silent charge now in the draped trap behind my seat, we set back off into the night.
Let’s get another one…we proclaimed!! Our bodies rocked erractically as we drove slowly through the streets aiming our spotlight while excitedly and victoriously singing the rescue verses we’d made up earlier to replace those of a pop song we’d heard on the radio …'Ain’t no water deep enough… Ain’t no sludge toxic enough… Ain’t no sheriff bad enough…to keep me away from you, babe!' (We felt certain from his eerily cold comments about the unworthiness of dogs to be rescued, that the sheriff’s deputy who had sirened us down the night before in a neighboring parish, and demanded by megahorn that we exit our car, was one of the same deputies…or another of the same fabric… who had been videotaped inhumanely shooting the friendly and starving dogs in that Parish weeks after Katrina. In contrast, the National Guard patrols had greatly supported and watched over us).
Suddenly in midst of our singing...“Back up”, Jack said…”was that an animal’s body?”…”nah, surely it’s just debri”, we cheerfully assured each other, still drunken with our rescue celebration.
Our ecstatic and hysterical rantings softly trailed off as we realized that it was the body of an impossibly emaciated dog hanging face down from a high window of a church. The glass was open or broken out, leaving only the black wrought iron bars. Above the window glowed beautiful green and blue stained glass. It was apparent that the dog, left closed in the church during the hurricane, had become emaciated after weeks without food, and had then desperately tried to wedge himself out through the iron bars to jump to the ground below. Tragically, his torso had fit through, but his skeletal hips were too wide, and he was stuck hanging head down from the bars by his hips...just several feet from the ground and freedom, with each leg draped through the spaces between the adjacent bars. He obviously had then succumbed to end-stage starvation. A collar, which must have slipped off of his thin neck as he languished upside down, lay on the ground underneath his head. How many hours...days... had he hung, suffering, before crossing over? Then, hanging for months after death in the sun, the dog’s body had mummified rather than decomposing, leaving an expression of unthinkable suffering intact on his face.
It was surreal, as we tried to switch our focus from celebrating the mercy bestowed upon our newest little rescue….to the polarity of the obvious and extreme suffering of an expired living being who had not been dealt human compassion. We took photographs in somber silence to document for the world the depth of animal suffering that human irresponsibility on all sides had inflicted, in determination that we can open hearts to having compassionate procedures for animals during future disasters.
In almost complete quietitude and honoring reflection for the rest of the evening, we somehow continued on, yielding another cat rescue. Several hours later, soft gentle tears were finally able to seep their way through our numbness.