Torch to the Rescue

Written in response to the daily prompt  First Sight: Whether a person, a pet, an object, or a place, write about something or someone you connected with from the very first second.

The following is a fictionalized account of an incident during the Katrina clean-up:

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, many pets were abandoned as their owners fled the storm. When the search and rescue teams came to help those who stayed, they had to deal with these scared and hungry pets. One of those rescuers found a dog that stole his heart.

The rescue team had arrived a few days before and had already searched one neighborhood door by door. They were now working on a second area. Jimmy waded up to the door from the raft and put the entry tag next to the door of the house. It was hard work pushing these doors open. Most of them were wooden doors swollen from all the water they were now sitting in. He had to put his shoulder into this one to get it unstuck. His partner, Kevin, stood close by ready to handle anything unexpected. Sometimes when they opened the door a snake would float out and Jimmy was more afraid of snakes than anything else he had ever run across. So, he would open the door and step back so Kevin could see what was coming out.

This time there were no snakes. What there was though was a medium-sized dog lying on a table, just out of the water, thumping the tip of its tail weakly against the tabletop. Its fur was coated with a matted muddy mess. There was no way of telling what its original color was. Its eyes looked at the two men with such pleading that it filled them with pity. They were there to rescue humans, but they couldn’t bring themselves to leave this poor pitiful dog here in such distressing conditions. When they finished checking for people, Jimmy waded over to the dog and petted it for a moment and told it everything would be ok now. He then gently lifted the dog and carried it out to the raft, broke open a food bar and gave it to the dog. The dog gobbled it down and licked his hand in thanks.

Kevin asked “What are we going to do with him? They won’t allow dogs at the shelter.”

Jimmy responded “There’s an animal shelter set up across town. We can send him over there. What do you think Sam?”

“As long as he doesn’t scare anyone, he can stay here,” she said, “I don’t mind a dog on my raft.”

With that settled they went on to the next house, the next street, and the next block. Each house they dutifully marked with the number of survivors, none, and the number found dead, some. The next crew would come along and take care of those who didn’t make it. The job now was to find and help those who did. Nearing the end of the shift, the dog started barking and growling in a low deep growl. Its attention was not too far off the port bow. Sam looked at what she thought was a large tree branch floating in the water only to see its eyes blink. With a start she quickly changed direction to move away from that “branch”. She had never seen a croc’ or a ‘gator before in person and didn’t know which this was. She just knew she didn’t want to get too close to it.

When they got back to base later that day, Jimmy put the dog in the grey water and washed the worst of the mud off him. He then washed his own hands and face for dinner, which he shared with the dog. After dinner, he walked the dog over to the waiting area for animals to be shipped out. There were multiple cat and dogs in cages that were too small for them. And if a dog didn’t fit in a cage, it had a short chain tied around its neck so it could barely stand up. The person in charge of the area explained that this was just a temporary measure till a truck came for them and they would be loaded and sent to an actual shelter that would have more space for them. The dog hid behind Jimmy’s legs and was reluctant to approach the area. Jimmy couldn’t stand the thought of leaving the dog there and decided to take personal responsibility for him.

“What are we going to do with you?” he asked the dog back at his area of the shelter. “We don’t even have a name for you.” The dog looked at him with a furrowed, hopeful brow. “How about we call you … Torch.” The dog wagged his tail in agreement.

The next morning Torch was lying on the floor next to Jimmy’s cot waiting for him to get up. All three team members gave a portion of their breakfast so the dog would have something to eat, then they set out for another neighborhood.

Throughout the day, Torch would stand at the front of the boat and alert them to dangers in the water. When they entered houses in mostly dry areas, Torch would be right there at Jimmy’s side. He would bark or scratch at a door if there was someone inside, or growl if there was a snake or something else to worry about on the other side of the door.

When the end of their tour came they wanted to take him with them, but knew that he belonged to someone else. And due to quarantine procedures he would not be allowed to leave the area without waiting a week or more to be sure he wasn’t carrying some disease. So, much to their regret they had to leave him with an animal shelter in the area. Jimmy inspected the shelter to ensure he was being left in good hands. It was overcrowded, but clean.  Eventually, Torch’s family came back to get him.  What happened after that is another story.

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