Rachel Mounce spent Friday night helping two friends she rides horses with move the animals to safety as floodwaters began rising in south Louisiana. The very next day, the 16-year-old was at it again, this time fighting a current in the dark to save her own four horses from the rushing water that already had swallowed her family's Tiger Bend Road home.
"I told my mom, you can come with me if you want, but I can't let them sit there and drown," she recalled on Wednesday in a barn at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, which has turned into a shelter for both people and animals.
Many people have escaped flooded homes on boats with their pet dogs and cats. But Mounce had to put up a bigger fight to rescue her horses, one of which is just a pony and had to have its head held above water. She rescued several other horses that were stranded in neck-deep water, too, and still isn't sure who they belong to.
"I got thrown underwater a couple of times, trampled, and it was bad and it was dark," Mounce said. "They were all scared, but they all got out."
By Wednesday afternoon, 450 dogs and 109 cats were staying at the Lamar Dixon pet shelter, said Veronica Mosgrove, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. The shelter also has 333 horses, 139 cattle, 44 pigs, 123 goats and 27 exotic animals.
The agriculture department, along with the Louisiana State Animal Response Team and veterinarians and students from LSU, are running the shelter with help from national organizations such as the ASPCA. Those groups as well as private donors have supplied volunteers, crates, bowls, food and other items.
Dr. Becky Adcock, a veterinarian and director of the shelter, said donations of supplies are not need right now. Bags of pet food were piled up inside an arena where some of the pets are being kept.
People who need to claim an animal at the shelter should go to Barn 1 at Lamar Dixon and show proof of ownership, Adock said. The animals are on an indefinite hold, she said, meaning they will not be adopted out before owners can pick them up.
The Louisiana State Animal Response Team - or LSART - a group that is activated during emergencies at the request of government agencies to rescue animals - teamed up with ASPCA to conduct rescue missions in Livingston and East Baton Rouge parishes on Tuesday and were working in Ascension Parish on Wednesday.
Adcock, who has worked with LSART for 11 years, said her organization has learned many lessons since Hurricane Katrina. LSART ran a shelter in LSU's Parker Coliseum that housed 2,000 pets for six weeks back then. Protocols have been improved since then, she said.
"It may look like mass confusion, but the plan is here," Adcock said over a cacaphony of barking dogs. "The cavalry is here."
Sisters Molly Greer and Sarah Rogers, of St. Francisville, were among many people who showed up to Lamar Dixon Wednesday morning offering to help.
"These animals are scared and we're trying to love on them," Greer said as she put a leash on a small brown and white dog to go for a walk. It took 20 minutes to get the scared dog out of her kennel, Greer said.
Inside one of the barns of the sprawling Lamar Dixon complex, Brooke LeBlanc, of Gonzales, was helping water horses and put out fresh hay.
LeBlanc said the shelter "is important for them because animals are not as smart as people. They can't know when to evacuate. They just keep moving to higher ground."
Some people stabled their animals at Lamar Dixon before they evacuated, and a few have even been sleeping in the barns with their horses, LeBlanc said. Others have come to the shelter searching for horses they lost track of in the flood.
Dawn Broussard and her father Phillip Broussard brought their seven horses to Lamar Dixon on Saturday as floodwaters approached their home in Brittany, a community located between Gonzales and Sorrento. The family home didn't take any water, but the barn flooded.
Phillip Broussard said he met one man who has 4 feet of water in his house but has been volunteering at Lamar Dixon anyway. Seeing that kind of support in the community has been encouraging, he said.
"When you've got water up to your butt, there ain't nothing you can do," he said. "You just go somewhere."