Live, From New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS -- With the gargantuan motorcades and all the streets blocked off, I feel like I'm back in my city of residence, Washington, D.C. But the presence of military Hummers alongside trombone players belting out "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" makes it impossible to forget where I am.

I finally find an unobstructed route to Cafe du Monde and sit down for breakfast this Tuesday morning. As I have my beignets and cafe au lait with the others gathered to watch the motorcade go by, we get a wave from President Bush on his way to Mass at St. Louis Cathedral. I hear there was supposed to be a bell rung at 9:38 a.m., commemorating when the first levee broke, but it never went off.

After breakfast, I'll make my way to the jazz funeral-type anniversary processions with Lt. Gen. Russel Honore and others in attendance, as well as to the "anti-versary" processions protesting what almost everyone I've talked to here feels is the government's abandonment of the city.

As you might have been hearing on the news, the most significant changes here to real neighborhoods -- with no official rebuilding plan having been issued -- are happening at the local level, with citizens and grassroots groups acting together as never before.

That is certainly true of the Humane Society of Louisiana and others like it.

HSLA, a year later
In an earlier article, I reported on the progress of all five charities that Foolanthropy supported last year. I received very encouraging responses from everyone, but no one was able to detail exactly how the money we raised was spent quite the way HSLA did.

HSLA is still very much in crisis mode. Any budget-minded Fool will appreciate the specifics the Society provided, and it will also be immediately apparent from the figures how much has been done, as well as how much it will take for HSLA to really get out of its disaster state.

The stray animal problem has returned to pre-Katrina conditions, but the resources to tend to these animals are nowhere near back to normal levels. The strain on smaller shelters around Louisiana is immense. HSLA's time and resources have gone in part toward supporting these small shelters -- helping them apply for grants, starting new local chapters, taking in animals scheduled for euthanasia because of space constraints.

As a result, HSLA intakes have increased by more than 100% since Katrina -- this despite still operating primarily in disaster mode out of Tylertown, Miss. Dana Nesbitt, president of HSLA, says that with the outdoor kennels at that location, the Society feels completely unprepared for another hurricane. Fear of another one is undeniably on everyone's mind in this part of the country.

HSLA's budget has correspondingly more than doubled since the storm, and Nesbitt thanks Foolanthropy's efforts in making that happen.

"The $81,174 raised for HSLA by Foolanthropy was the biggest single source of gifts to the agency since Katrina," Nesbitt says, "and you have helped us remain in operation. The Foolanthropy gifts funded the entire cost of all of our routine and emergency veterinary expenses during the first eight months of 2006."

The costs
So, how was this money spent? A very obvious way is in the number of animals cared for. Before Katrina, HSLA cared for about 750 animals annually. Since the storm, HSLA has sheltered, cared for, or reunited with their owners more than 2,000 animals. On a daily basis, it provides care for 350 animals. Before Katrina, the Society's destroyed New Orleans headquarters housed just 125 animals at any given time.

HSLA estimates that basic rebuilding costs to replace its shelter facility and recoup resources lost during Katrina will top $850,000. Although the Society has applied for major rebuilding grants from the estimated $40 million that national animal-protection agencies doing relief work in the area have raised, it has so far received less than $145,000 for recovery costs. Most of that amount will go toward replacing uninsured equipment.

Another $42,000 represents a donated adoption van, which is in constant use bringing rescued animals to the East Coast, where there's a greater demand for puppies and adult dogs. The contents of the HSLA's destroyed Algiers location and thrift store alone exceeded $80,000.

Aside from raising funds needed for rebuilding, there's the issue of finding a reasonably priced contractor in the area. With the overwhelming demand for services, prices have skyrocketed. Nesbitt says that only recently was the Society able to get a donated portable building erected -- simply because the HSLA couldn't get workers to lay concrete for months.

In the meantime, HSLA has been fortunate enough to rent a "relatively" affordable building for adoptions in suburban New Orleans, so people looking to adopt in the city no longer have to make the 100-mile trek to Tylertown to see the animals. I got a tour of the new "Happy Tails Adoption Center" yesterday and immediately fell for Mya, a transplant kitty from one of the sister disaster operations in Mississippi. A clean, cheerful, roomy facility, Happy Tails has already adopted out many animals.

After the one-two punch New Orleans suffered from Katrina itself and the breaking of the levees, HSLA, along with much of the rest of the city, now faces another battle, in the form of a lack of funds and direction from the government to rebuild. Couple that with astronomical prices for extremely scarce labor, and the effect is nearly catastrophic -- one year later.

I'm confident in reporting that HSLA has used the funds Fools raised as wisely as possible. The Society has stretched the funds out in true Foolish form. And I'm absolutely thrilled about Happy Tails opening in the New Orleans area, since it represents the beginning of a shift from disaster mode to some semblance of normality -- as well as a shift back to home turf.

It's not over
I also must report, however, that a mind-boggling amount of work still needs to be done in New Orleans and surrounding parishes, and that can only be done with cooperation at neighborhood, city, state, and federal levels. That said, as a former New Orleanian and as someone who has seen firsthand the dedication of the relief workers, I'm very optimistic that the city, and HSLA along with it, will eventually get back on their feet.

All over town, they're calling it "The City of Hope." I don't think anyone will ever again be able to call it "The City That Care Forgot," because it's going to take a great deal of care from the organizing local populace, the government at multiple levels, and all Americans to help bring this city back -- and bring it back better than ever.

To donate to the Humane Society of Louisiana, visit its website.

To nominate HSLA or any other charity for the Foolanthropy 2006 campaign, remember to post to our Foolanthropy board starting Oct. 16.

The Motley Fool is very proud to have Hilton Family Hotels (NYSE: HLT  ) as a partner in our Foolanthropy 2006 campaign.

Online editor Carrie Crockett does not own shares of any company mentioned in this article, although she does donate to the Humane Society of Louisiana. Carrie was co-chair of the Foolanthropy 2005 campaign, along with David Gardner. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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