Cagey Pet Rescuers Lure About 200 Into Boats Owners Didn’t Expect Long Absence


Steve Gillespie and Lee Bell, both flooded out of their homes, traveled by boat throughout one badly flooded Grand Forks, N.D., neighborhood to save numerous hungry, crying cats and two pet rats, and they tried unsuccessfully to save a kitten, a parakeet and two goldfish.

The men, whose daily routine has been badly disrupted by the flood, wanted to do something to pass the time and to help their city. They were part of a large rescue effort to save the Grand Forks pets left behind by owners when the town was evacuated last week because of the flooding Red River.

It’s an effort that people across the country are helping to complete. The Humane Society of Grand Forks is working with the United Animal Nation emergency animal rescue service based in Sacramento, Calif. The California organization specializes in rescuing pets from disasters ranging from floods to earthquakes to fires. The rescue service’s trained volunteers have come from many states and some are using vacation time to help.

So far, about 200 pets have been saved. The rescue work is likely to continue through the weekend. Many of the pet owners left their animals because they thought they would be gone for only one or two days. Others, evacuated by the National Guard, were told they couldn’t bring their pets, and the emergency shelters won’t allow pets to stay. Panicking when they realized their pets were likely to be stranded for weeks unless rescued, the owners called the Humane Society for help.

“They just feel so bad because they left them,” said Arlette Moen, executive director of the Humane Society of Grand Forks. “It’s not their fault, they have no reason to feel that.”

Several rescuers in boats helped save pets from the southern section of Grand Forks throughout the day Wednesday.

Gillespie, who works at the University of North Dakota, and Bell, a pilot for Federal Express, spent Tuesday and Wednesday as part of the rescue crew, boating around the flooded neighborhoods. They came armed with descriptions of the animals, their temperaments and preferred hiding places. By the end of the day, the two had become proficient at rescuing animals, calling “Here, kitty, kitty,” with great feeling, but quickly pushing the hissing, clawing cats into cages once they cornered the animals.

“This is all very strange,” Gillespie said with a sigh as they looked out at the houses from the boat.

By the end of the day, their boat was loaded with meowing, hissing cats and two rats.

The men didn’t get to see any of the pets returned to their owners. But Rahn Ford was reunited with Floyd, his basset hound, on Wednesday at the Humane Society offices. Ford had left the 6-year-old dog on the second floor of his home Saturday during the evacuation, sure he was going to be able to pick him up in a couple of days.

“He looks good,” Ford said, smiling widely.

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