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updated 12/10/01
Help for pets at ground zero
by Diane Howes

EVEN AS the heinous devastation of our city, our people, remains too surreal to comprehend, New Yorkers and our animals are caring for each other.

As reality began to settle in, many people's thoughts turned to the pets and their owners affected by the tragedy. Hundreds of guardians were lucky enough to take their pets when they evacuated, but now are homeless and in shelters. Thousands of animals are stranded in the frozen zone, scared, possibly hurt, breathing the noxious fumes, with their people frantic to get to them. There are other pets, all over the metropolitan area, waiting for guardians who will never return.

It was only Tuesday afternoon when I started experiencing the first stories of compassion. Survivors struggling uptown with their arms carrying unknown stunned or injured animals. Pet recovery units set up at the Jersey City and Chelsea Piers triage centres. Animal shelters, clinics and individuals offering free care and kennelling for rescue volunteers. And neighbours posting signs saying, "The super let me in and I have "XXXXX"- He's OK but wants You safely home".

As the week has gone on, we've become more organised. The ASPCA emergency unit is established near Ground Zero and veterinarians are being escorted into frozen areas to retrieve pets locked in homes and help those found on the street. Rumour has it that within the first four hours of an internet appeal for help, over 20,000 volunteers were listed. Thousands of tons of dry and canned food, doggie booties and can openers have been contributed for rescue dogs working at Ground Zero. For those people in shelters with their pets, it goes even further. Thousands of individuals have donated dog biscuits, bones and other treats - brushes, combs, shampoos, carriers, leashes, beds, lambskins and catnip friends. (Kudos go to Petco and Whiskers, in particular, for their efforts and discounts, but I'm sure others are helping.) We all concur that it would comfort us to comfort our pets should we be in the same situation.

But there are other stories, stories of pets giving to and reassuring their people, plus at least one or a few miracles. I heard of one seeing-eye dog who lost its way in the second plume and deserted its charge, only to return 35 minutes later with help. And one retriever managed to get almost 25 blocks north, arriving (maybe by chance, but we pet people understand otherwise) at the same check point where her "dad" anxiously tried to convince the police to let him search for her.

Equally impressive and important are those pets giving solace to the legions of us fortunate enough not to lose a family member or close friends. The litter box-trained Maltese who, on the third day, repeatedly dropped her leash on her master's chest, finally pulling him away from the horrors on TV to eat and venture outside where he found comfort with others. Or the dogs who pull, as never before, on their leashes to lick the hands or faces of those posting photos of their loved ones, providing comfort to them, and giving us an opening to care or comfort. Or the cat who howled by the door of an elderly owner who had fallen, hit his head and, as it turned out, broken a hip, but didn't want to call and pull an ambulance away from the emergency. In my case it's Jaspurr, my 18-year-old self-absorbed black cat. Yet immediately after he registered my cries of anguish as I watched the second plane ram the World Trade Center, Jaspurr has focused his attention on me.

For the last four nights I haven't slept more than an hour or so at a time. But Jaspurr is on my chest, side or back, regardless of whether I'm awake or dozing. During the day he's at the desk or computer, always within each. He greets me at the door as I come back from trying to do omething, anything, to help. And he has yet to complain about the "junk ood" I get at supermarkets, since our natural pet stores are all closed.

Quite simply, if I'm home, he's touching me. I believe we're both finding comfort from that. I know I am.

So, fellow animal lovers, know that we New Yorkers are doing our part or pets and their people, and they're doing the same for us. May you all respect your neighbours, regardless of their heritage or eligion, pray for the dead and their families and give your children and our pets extra hugs of love and appreciation.

We are passionate New Yorkers, and proud Americans.