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Students help people, animals during journey

Forty-five Loyd Star Attendance Center seniors spent Thursday onthe Gulf Coast assisting the two- and four-legged survivors ofHurricane Katrina.

English teacher Karen Rogers, who organized the trip, said thejourney was originally designed to assist the pets running freeafter being abandoned by their owners when evacuating the coast.Circumstances, however, changed the itinerary of the trip after theLincoln County group arrived.

“We did not get to any shelters. One was flooded the nightbefore and the other had just transported about 70 animals out toshelters in other states to increase their adoption chances,” shesaid.

With a full trailer of donated pet supplies in tow, the studentsand 12 chaperones from the faculty and alumni were nonethelessdirected to an area in need of assistance.

Their first stop was to clean out a storage area and store theirsupplies. The next was to help the American Red Cross serve hotlunches in a school gymnasium.

“We talked to a lot of people living in tents and (FederalEmergency Management Agency) trailers,” said senior KennethJohnson. “They were nice people. They were respectful to everyoneand really appreciated what we did.”

The students were eager listeners for residents to share theirexperiences, Rogers said.

“They wanted to talk and tell their stories. We listened a lot,”she said.

The images seen in pictures or on television don’t give theslightest sense of the devastation on the coast, said TrevorPortrey.

“I didn’t realize how bad it still was down there,” he said. “Ireally want to go back.”

Johnson, who spent the Thanksgiving holiday school breakvolunteering in New Orleans, agreed.

“New Orleans isn’t near about as bad as the Mississippi coast,”he said.

After serving lunch, the students broke up into smaller groupsand sectioned off neighborhoods for animal “food drops.” Many ofthe abandoned pets are still living in the rubble of destroyedbuildings, Rogers said.

Pet advocates are trying to round them up when possible, but thesheer number of animals has overwhelmed the area’s shelters. In themeantime, pet advocates are making food drops at certain locationsto help the animals survive, she said.

“We would actually drop the food and the animals have learnedwhere to go. It was heartbreaking to see them come out from underthe rubble as we left,” Rogers said. “In the few mile blocks wemade, there were literally hundreds of animals that are still notrescued.”

Animals gathered by the shelter are first sent to a veterinarianfor check up and then frequently shipped to other areas of theUnited States for adoption, she said.

Some of the supplies donated to the students by area residentsand veterinarian clinics were distributed to individuals in needwhile the students made the food drops, Rogers said.

“They’ll probably use a lot of the dog food we took for theanimal drops,” she said.

More than $600 raised by the students went directly to theshelter, Rogers said.

The students arrived back at the school around 10:30 p.m.Thursday night with a new perspective on life, they said.

“Seeing all that stuff makes you realize how fast everything canbe gone,” said Brett Hart. “Things like running water and heat aretaken for granted. I kind of felt guilty for having what we havehere while they’re still living in tents.”

Portrey said he also felt guilty when he went home, and it madehim reflect on the transitory nature of material possessions.

“You never know when what you have will be gone,” he said. “Itwas a life-changing trip.”