The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.
Story by Bob Wallace/American Red Cross (Note: Bob, a public affairs volunteer at the Mid-South Red Cross, wrote this story while on deployment in Northwest Louisiana assisting with the Red Cross relief effort after the spring floods.)
Bossier City, Louisiana, March 22, 2016. Pets are generally not allowed to reside in the living and eating areas of Red Cross shelters – it’s a rule in place to protect the health, safety and comfort of people staying at the shelter so they’re not exposed to allergens, pet waste, noise and even fears associated with certain animals. In most cases, arrangements are made for pets to be housed separately, often in close proximity, by American Red Cross partner agencies.
So at first I was surprised when I walked into the Red Cross shelter at the Bossier City Civic Center in Louisiana and found Lucky, a medium-size black and tan mixed-breed dog with white markings, sitting proudly, with place of purpose, on the cots designated for the family of Tom Taylor.
It turns out that Lucky is a dog with a special purpose in life. Joey Dansby, Tom’s stepson, is autistic and Lucky provides emotional support, exerting a calming effect on Joey. So, Lucky was allowed to reside in the shelter as a therapy dog for Joey.
The Taylor family is from Elm Grove, Louisiana, and includes Tom’s wife, Jane, and his stepson Joey. The family’s designated area in the shelter is surrounded by a barricade made up of cots turned on their side, presumably to keep Lucky contained in their portion of the large room shared by a number of families.
Two weeks ago when the torrential rains hit North Louisiana, Jane and Joey moved from their home because they expected some flooding to occur. Tom stayed behind to keep an eye on everything, never dreaming that the water would eventually totally engulf his home. By 11 p.m. on the evening of the rain there was two inches of water in the house and it was rising fast. “I knew I was in serious trouble,” said Tom.
Eventually, the National Guard arrived in an airboat to deliver Tom to a central location. He finally arrived at the Red Cross shelter around 2 a.m. “In 50 years, I’ve never seen it flood like it did,” said Tom. “It’s still about 6 feet deep around our house.”
Tom works in the Circulation Department at the local library and was afraid that he would lose his job since he could not work while dealing with flood and family issues. But “they were really understanding…they gave me a leave of absence until I get everything straightened out,” Tom said.
The Taylor family lost everything in the flood. Tom loves to read and lost about 2,000 books. As we talked, his wife Jane was at the local Goodwill Store looking for clothing for the family.
“Everybody [here at the Red Cross shelter] has been great, especially Colleen Morgan [one of the shelter managers]. Some people here bug her to death. She just takes care of things with no frustration. I’d be climbing the walls,” Tom said. He noted that the Red Cross had also helped to replace medications lost in the flood.
Initially, the Taylor family was comforted by the fact that they have flood insurance that was paid by their mortgage company. But when Tom called to file a claim he was in for a shock. The mortgage company had dropped the insurance without their knowledge almost a year before the flood, leaving them with no coverage. That’s why the family ended up spending 14 days in the Red Cross shelter.
Despite the setback from the lack of insurance, all was not lost for the Taylor family. FEMA has now approved them for assistance, which includes financial help for temporary housing. So Tom, Jane, Joey, and therapy dog Lucky have now moved out of the shelter and are taking the first steps in putting their lives back together.