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Bringing heroes, hope

Eight dogs have a Freeland woman to thank for their safe escape from the region devastated by Hurricane Katrina. They are “small stories” with a happy ending.

Lorraine Newlin, an admitted animal lover, drove the Havanese-type dogs to the farm she shares with husband Gregg Salmon, four horses and several cats and dogs.

Owners of four of the dogs have already contacted Newlin.

Once they are settled again, Newlin expects to reunite them with their owners.

Her journey to New Orleans and back home was an emotional one.

“After being there and seeing what those people have to deal with as they rebuild their lives, it makes my problems seem trivial,” Newlin said.

“I decided to help in someway tangible,” she said.

Newlin wanted to help the pets that had been left homeless and without their families after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast.

She hopped a plane to New Orleans, no small feat for a woman who has never traveled alone and “is a post 9-11 non-flyer.”

But she overcame her fears.

“We were the only plane at the airport. It was spooky.”

She and her husband had prearranged for a rental car with Enterprise.

A Ford Expedition, dark gray with gray-tinted windows it would become her home for the next week.

Newlin is a member of a purebred rescue organization for Havanese dogs, who look like small cuddly bundles of fur.

Her first stop was an animal shelter in New Orleans, where she cleaned a horse barn. There, she met a local woman whose home had been damaged but was still volunteering to help animals.

“Giselle really put the human face on the tragedy for me,” Newlin recalled. “We spent a lot of time together. We are friends for life.”

With a vehicle, Newlin helped the woman relocate her cats, and then did various other errands and missions of mercy.

One of those missions included rescuing animals left behind by families who had evacuated.

She recalled how a dog owner asked her to check his home for Harpo, his German shepherd.

Newlin said they looked in windows and knocked on the door, but didn’t hear anything.

“We almost gave up. We pulled boards off the door and got inside the house,” she said. Breaking into a locked room, “we found a beautiful German shepherd with his nose pressed against one of the doors we had been knocking on. He was too weak to respond to our knocks.”

They helped the dog out and immediately gave him water. And then she called home to Whidbey.

“I called my Freeland veterinarian because I wasn’t sure how much to let him drink and eat at once,” she said.

The animal was taken to an animal shelter, where it is expected he will be reunited with his owner.

Another rescue didn’t turn out as well.

“We found three pet ferrets in another house, only one was still alive,” she said.

The two women spent most of their time north of New Orleans working in a huge rescue shelter for animals.

Located 48 miles to the north, the Lamar Dixon Center is home to thousands of animals rescued from the storm. They are housed in crates and stalls.

The Lamar Dixon Expo Center is a multi-use events facility, used mostly for horse and 4-H activities. The facilities 856 animal pens weren’t enough to hold all the animals.

“There were at least 1,500 dogs and as many cats all in crates,” Newlin said.

Other animals housed there includes horses, goats, ferrets bunnies, reptiles and birds.

Every evening between 6 p.m. and midnight, Newlin walked dogs. While she was walking dogs, other volunteers would hose out the crates and restock the animals’ dishes with food and water. Labels on the crates included the breed of dog and where they were found.

“Some were actual house addresses, while others were just street names with the nearest intersection,” she said. “One area of the shelter housed hundreds of pit bulls that were probably used for fighting. They were scared and could only be walked by trained animal control officers.”

During the heat of the day, Newlin and the other volunteers kept the animals spritzed with cool water.

“Fans were running everywhere to keep the air moving, but it was still very hot,” she said.

Newlin slept for for four or five hours each night in her rented SUV.

“I lived on water, Gatorade and chicken nuggets from a nearby Wendy’s,” she said.

The red tape to take animals home to foster was incredible and the rules changed everyday.

“By the time I left, the rules were you couldn’t take less than six dogs and you had to be affiliated with a nonprofit organization.

Newlin brought back seven Havanese type dogs, and one of the dogs she walked every night, a terrier mix.

She knew getting the rescued dogs flown out would be complicated, so she decided to drive home. The only problem, Enterprise wanted its vehicle left at its New Orleans site.

Newlin’s husband, Gregg Salmon, got on the phone with the Everett Enterprise office.

“Once they knew what she was doing, they agreed to buy the car from the New Orleans Enterprise office, so Lorraine was able to drive it home.”

The ride back took four days.

“The dogs slept most of the way. I think they were grateful for the air conditioning,” she said.

Since arriving at her Freeland home, Newlin has taken the dogs to a local veterinarian and has spent hours grooming and bathing them. They are quarantined away from her other dogs for a few days.

Newlin will care for four of the dogs until they can be adopted or are reunited with the owners.

Newlin said the animal rescue effort needs to keep going.

“Animals were still being brought into the shelter when I left. Lots of pets will get lost in the shuffle, I am afraid,” she said.

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