The real-life happy endings to come out of the Louisiana floods show animals bring everyone together

By Erica Callais Falbaum
Updated September 02, 2016 03:02 PM
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Credit: Courtesy Josh Pettit

Imagine having to evacuate your home in an emergency or natural disaster — that was the reality for many due to the recent devastating floods in south Louisiana. For pet lovers, it’s hard to think of leaving home without their fur baby.

Looking at images of animals drowning in the waters, it’s easy for spectators on the outside to to wonder “How could anyone leave their pets behind?”

These are inspiring stories that answer that heartbreaking question. These situations all start with the same terrifying flood that destroyed thousands of homes, but each has its own happy ending.

Newlyweds, John and Amanda Kay of Denham Springs, Louisiana, started off their summer vacation in typical fashion, by dropping off their two rescue pups, Romeo and Olive, with their pet sitter. As they drove away to Austin, Texas, for their getaway, there was no concern except the rainy drive ahead. No thoughts or warnings of floods were in the forecast. But overnight, the storm with no name began to ravage over 30 parishes across Louisiana, making it the worst natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy.

Credit: Courtesy John Kay

It wasn’t until early Saturday morning that the Kays heard about the flood waters that rushed in overnight. Being so far away, there was nothing to do but panic. Amanda called her pet sitter who had devastating news — the water was rushing into her home. She and the dogs were making plans to climb to the roof. The Kays had no idea whether their pets were going to make it or not.

The Kay’s neighbors, Michael and Ashley Michelli, were also away on vacation. They had left their pups, Hazel and Daisy, at home to be cared for by a neighbor. They woke up Saturday morning to reports of extreme flooding in their neighborhood. Within hours, their home filled with 3 feet. Daisy, a young dog, was still being crate trained. They knew she was in her kennel on the floor and assumed the worst as they got on the road to head home. Their hearts were broken, but they didn’t lose hope for Hazel. They made the most of the 10 hour drive (normally 4) by calling and putting pleas out on Facebook for someone to rescue their pups. The Michellis were losing hope as they struggled to get home with no way to know if their pups were drowning inside.

Credit: Courtesy Ashley Michelli

Across town, Crystal Hoppe and her family were sleeping in when their pit bull, Gracie, began barking. Hoppe rolled out of bed to see what was going on, only to realize Gracie was alerting her of the water quickly climbing up her driveway. If it wasn’t for Gracie, the water would have rushed in quietly, possibly drowning Hoppe’s 10-month-old baby, Colby Jr. In less than two hours, the water rose four feet. Grabbing what little they could carry, Hoppe and her family swam through the water in the pouring rain to safety with Gracie, their hero, in tow.

Credit: Courtesy Crystal Hoppe

The water rose eight feet in two hours in some areas, which kept people and pets searching for higher and higher ground. Josh Pettit from Maurepas, stayed up for three days rescuing people and animals from desperate situations. Only rooftops and treetops were visible from his boat where he and two of his friends worked round the clock. On one trip, Josh saw a branch moving so they steered the boat in that direction. They came upon a pit bull whose face was barely above the water with what Pettit calls “the saddest eyes he’s ever seen.” The poor pit bull, tangled in a bush, was scared for her life and exhausted from treading water for hours. Pettit pulled her onto the boat and fed her some chips and water. Over the boat ride back to dry land, the pup walked up to Pettit and laid her head down on his lap and began to cry and moan in joy. It was her way of thanking him for saving her life.

Credit: Courtesy Josh Pettit

People like Courtney Middleton opened up her petting zoo, Cajun Cuties, as a makeshift sanctuary for displaced animal, which is currently holding horses, goats, cats, pigs, dogs, chickens, guinea pigs, and even hermit crabs. She rescued animals of all sorts struggling to survive, such as one pig who had given up hope and was resting his head on a fence waiting for his last breath. She also discovered six dogs floating on a raft with no one around to help them. Middleton rescued the pups and is doing her best to reunite the animals with their owners.

Credit: Courtesy Amanda Kay

It was volunteer rescuers like Middleton and Pettit who provided the Michellis with a happy ending. After two days of trying and failing to reach their home, the Michelli’s finally got in touch with someone who could help. Rachel Curry of South Central Bloodhound Rescue sent rescuers to visit their home. Shannon Eickhoff, Kinnie Johnson and Suzanne Ball, waded through waist deep water and broke a window to enter. Believing Daisy already drowned in her kennel, the Michellis only told the rescue group about Hazel. Expecting to find just one dog, the recuse team was shocked to find two pups alive and huddled on the kitchen counter. A video of the miraculous rescue shows the pups crying in fear and joy, narrated by the surprised voices of the rescuers. The surprise was even more emotional for Ashley and Michael, who believed that Daisy was surely dead.

Credit: Courtesy Courtney Middleton

For the Kays, it’s their pet sitter who is being applauded for her efforts to ensure the couple’s pets did not get left behind. The sitter found herself evacuated three times in just a few days. One shelter didn’t allow the dogs inside, so she chose to sleep outside instead of abandoning them. Communication was almost non-existent and there was no possible way for John and Amanda to get back home to their pets right after the flood. With nowhere to go, the Kays headed north to Shreveport, Louisiana. While waiting for flood waters to recede, they began collecting supplies for friends down south. Their efforts snowballed and they were able to gather enough supplies to fill multiple 18-wheelers. It was a roller coaster of emotions that started with seeing the worst of mother nature, but ended with finding the best in people. After several agonizing days, the Kays were reunited with their pups and could let out a sigh of relief.

Credit: Courtesy John Kay

Despite losing everything, the Kays, Hoppes, and Michelli families learned that home is where your pet is. Unfortunately, hundreds of animals have yet to be reunited with their owners. Even Shelters are overcrowded and have no choice but to send animals out of state. The Louisiana State Animal Response Team is working with volunteers, fosters, and rescues across the country to find shelter for pets in need. You can visit their Facebook page for the most recent updates along with ways to get involved.

The struggle is far from over. Even though the floods are over, South Louisiana still needs help. If you would like to donate to help flood victims or families mentioned in this story, visit the links below.