Things had changed quite a lot since my first visit two weeks earlier. For one thing, there were two to three times as many birds as before, and a whole different set of volunteers. Many of the birds from Lamar Dixon were now at Donna's house, along with many of the birds from LSU. I recognized some of my little finch friends that we had spent hours working on in the hot room at LSU, and was happy to see they were doing well. Dr. Fern VanSant of California had been there from the 16th to the 20th, so the birds had been getting more veterinary care than most of them had ever received in their lives. It seemed that as soon as one veterinarian left, another was on the way.
The number of cages, toys, and bags of food were unbelievable compared to my first visit when there was virtually nothing. Cages were stacked in the driveway and yard, boxes of spare toys were piled in the carport, and food filled the tool room off of the carport almost to the ceiling. Volunteers had been moving the birds into bigger cages, giving them toys, millet, multiple food dishes, and making their living quarters better than what they had known in their original homes. Many of the birds had arrived in old, rusty, tiny cages, but their new homes were like palaces.
Thanks to Hurricane Rita, all of the birds had been moved into the house for their safety rather than leaving any of them in the carport. Although the carport was now enclosed along the fourth side, it was screened, so it did not offer enough protection from the storm. When I arrived at Donna's house Saturday morning, it was hard to walk thru the place. In addition, the power was out so there was no air conditioning. Dr. Rich and I started the process of examining every bird in the place, and trimming the wings on most of them to prevent accidental escapes. Most of the birds were in remarkably good condition, with the few requiring medical care kept in the ICU, formerly known as the spare bedroom. We found some minor medical issues, such as scaly face mites and feather picking, and gave the appropriate treatments as we could. While we worked with the assistance of a couple of volunteers from Phoenix Landing, a parrot rescue organization, others were doing the daily feeding, watering, and cleaning routine.
Below is a walking tour of Donna's house as of September 26, 2005. I cannot identify everyone in the pictures as doing roll call and making formal introductions was not part of the daily routine. Everybody just worked.
MY SECOND VISIT TO DONNA POWELL'S HOUSE
SEPTEMBER 25 AND 26, 2005
Donna's yard was an obstacle course. Branches knocked from the trees by two hurricanes were everywhere, and the grass needed to be mowed, but much of it had been flattened by cars and trucks parking on the lawn. Nobody had time for any lawn beautification project. The larger spare cages were grouped in one area to be used as space permitted after some birds go home or when the aviary could be built. The plywood and concrete blocks seen here are supplies for building the aviary, while bags of concrete were stored inside to keep them dry. The plywood pile was our outdoor sofa for when we just needed to sit down for a few minutes to catch our breath, and impromptu meetings were held here. Unfortunately, I failed to get a picture of the trash pile by the street. The sanitation crew refused to haul it off because there was too much. You could have hidden a car under it. Imagine all the dirty papers from 100 cages that were cleaned every day!
This is the driveway just outside of the carport. A large wire aviary in the back of the picture was used to store carriers and many small cages to prevent them from being blown away by Hurricane Rita. Dozens of these small cages were a size not really suitable for a bird to live in long term, but they had been used until larger cages became available. I had already packed about 15 of the smallest ones into my van before I took this picture as I was bringing them back to Kansas City to sell so the money could be donated back to the group. There were unopened boxes containing even more cages in a large tent in the back yard, which I also forgot to take a picture of. Nobody had time to open all of these to see what they were, but as more volunteers continue to show up to help, eventually all will be put to good use. All of the birds will be sent home in nice cages of an appropriate size, with everything they could need. Not visible behind the stacks of cages are several dozen plastic tubs full of toys, dishes, and perches. I bought over $300 worth of plastic tubs with lids during this visit using money donated by my wonderful clients, and as anyone had time, they were sorting all of the extra items and labeling the tubs so they could be easily found later.
We are now entering the former carport, the size of a two car garage, where eight foot long folding tables held rows and rows of birds. All of the birds had been moved indoors for Hurricane Rita, and the process of moving some of them back out to the carport had just begun when I arrived. First, all of the spare cages and other supplies that were brought in to protect them from Rita had to be moved out of the carport to the driveway. I purchased three big tables with some of the donated money to help get birds moved back out of the house, where many of them had been sitting on the floor due to lack of further surfaces to set them on. On the 25th, you could barely walk thru the living room, but by the 26th the room was empty to make room for the Blue and Gold Macaws you will see in another picture below. Cages were not stacked on top of each other, the little cage you see on the left was a temporary cage used while examining multiple birds to separate those that had been treated from their untreated cage mates.
Another view of the carport, showing the new screened wall that protects them from raccoons and prevents escapes. Not shown is the big new freezer I bought with donated money to help store bird food since Donna's freezer was already full of human and bird food.
I am really bad at remembering people's names, so if anyone can tell me the name of the volunteer who was helping Elizabeth Simone-Freilicher, DVM, please let me know. The doctor showed up from New York when she heard that there were birds here but no veterinarian, and was surprised to walk in and find me and Dr. Greg Rich. There was plenty of work for all of us, so everybody was grateful for her being there.
Welcome to what used to be Donna's sunroom, where she could sit and play with her birds or get on the computer in the pre-Katrina days. You can see Donna behind the rows of cages. I wonder if her hair was gray before this ordeal. The tame birds were let out to play as much as possible, and a couple of the cockatoos that belonged to a breeder were particularly naughty about wanting to get down and explore.
Another view of the sunroom. Most of these birds belonged to Mike, a breeder who knew Donna and had evacuated his birds here before Katrina. It is impossible to photograph this room showing all the cages because there was no place to stand and view it all at once.
Here is what used to be Donna's dining room. The only ones dining in this room are the lucky birds that were rescued from the hurricane and flood.
Here we are in the family room. There is a television set that sat unused behind these cages, all of which contained budgies. The sign on the black trash bag covering the french doors says "Rue de Budgie". Some of the big cages contained seven to nine birds each, and had come from breeders, while others held some person's tiny beloved pet. The two big sofas not shown in this room were part of the fine hotel accommodations available to volunteers who stayed there.
The hallway was down to a single lane of traffic thanks to it being converted into "Lovebird Lane". Here is Donna's 18 year old son Neil, just back from a 12 hour vacation at a friend's house, where he got to sleep in a bed for a change. His bedroom had been taken over as the girls' dormitory. I don't know where he slept or if he slept at all. He seemed to be taking the madness better than some of us older folks, and was always ready to help with any task asked of him. I wish I could adopt him since I could use some help around my house. He is quite a good singer, too, and performs in public recitals. He always had a good attitude despite the fact that his home was overrun by strangers and screaming birds.
Now housed in Donna's living room are these three Blue and Gold Macaws that were the sole survivors of a flock of 35 or so big breeding birds. Their garage/aviary had flooded, but these three had escaped from their cages and survived while the others drowned. These are the birds we were hoping to reach by helicopter during my first visit. Nell and Larry Knapp, Gail Hale, Mattie Sue Athan, and Neil managed to enter the area with authority and with a police escort through National Guard troops on September 13 and got to the house by driving thru the mud and filth since the flood waters had receded. The birds were immediately taken to the vet school at LSU, but arrived too late in the day to get in, so they spent the night at Donna's then were transferred to LSU the next morning and didn't return to Donna's house until the 26th. In a way I am glad I did not end up going into their former home, as the sight of all those beautiful birds dead would have been devastating. Those doing the rescues inside the houses will surely have nightmares for a long time to come.
This is the actual rescue of the macaws shown above. Thanks to Mattie Sue for the photo. The rescuers look happy because they just heard the sound of macaws screaming, which meant at least some of the birds were alive. Many rescue efforts were not so successful, as a lot of birds died from drowning, starvation, or dehydration before teams could get to them.