A day before Hurricane Laura slammed into Louisiana on August 27, Henry “Andy” Roach made one of the hardest decisions of his life. He only had room in his pickup truck for the four adults he needed to evacuate, including his 88-year-old mother, and had no choice but to leave behind his two beloved dogs, Savage, a rescued six-year-old German Shepherd, and Deebo, a two-year-old pit bull who joined the family as a puppy.
“I have a 360-sq.-ft. shop on my property and left them access to it for shelter,” explains Andy, a 51-year-old Iraq War veteran and former paramedic from Sulphur, Louisiana, which is only 30 miles north of where Hurricane Laura made landfall. “My backyard is fully fenced, and I made sure they had food and water.”
Andy and his family drove 93 miles to a temporary shelter in Tioga, Louisiana, where they could safely ride out the hurricane, one of the strongest to ever hit the Louisiana coast.
Getting Good News
The day after the storm, one of Andy’s neighbors texted him photos of his home.
“The first thing I saw was Savage, lying on the ramp in front of my house,” Andy says. “I was so relieved; I knew he was OK.”
Another neighbor who had seen Deebo also contacted Andy, offering to feed both dogs.
Knowing his animals had survived the storm, Andy left for Pittsburg, Kentucky, 800 miles away, where he dropped off his mother at his sister’s house. He then drove back to Tioga and spent another night there.
What Andy didn’t know was that his backyard fence collapsed during the storm, and Savage had wandered off. A neighbor who didn’t recognize Savage feared he might be aggressive and called local animal control to have him picked up.
After learning that Savage had an owner, the neighbor called Andy and put him in touch with the animal control officers.
Coping with a Hurricane’s Consequences
Andy, a former medic with the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in Iraq, had experienced hurricanes before.
“When I came home from Iraq, Hurricane Rita hit,” he recalls. “But this was far worse.”
When Andy returned to Sulphur on September 3, he called animal control to check on Savage, who was undergoing a veterinary check-up. In two days he would be transferred to the ASPCA’s emergency shelter in Lake Charles where Andy could pick him up.
Andy turned his attention to his mobile home, which had shifted slightly off its blocks, as had his backyard shop. His next-door neighbor’s carport had also broken loose and damaged his own. And the leg to a metal awning from another house had punched a hole in the roof of his 17-year-old daughter Ashlynne’s room, soaking the carpet.
But Andy’s biggest challenge was damage to a utility pole, which made it impossible to hook up his generator.
“Everyone had electricity but me,” says Andy, who suffers from chronic pain, the result of IED (improvised explosive devices) explosions that occurred in Iraq. “I’m throwing away a whole lot of things that are starting to mold. We have running water but there is still a boil advisory. I’m taking it one day at a time. But this is southwest Louisiana; everybody helps everybody else.”
A Happy Reunion
On Tuesday, September 8, Andy visited the ASPCA’s temporary shelter to retrieve Savage.
“Savage ran toward his Andy, tongue out, wagging his tail,” says Jessica Rushin, the ASPCA’s Director of Placement Partnerships. Jessica interacted frequently with Savage at the shelter and reported that while Savage was stressed, he was also very sweet and docile. “It’s gratifying to see pets go home after such a stressful time,” Jessica tells us. “He was definitely glad to see Andy.”
Jessica also spoke to Andy about steps he could take to ensure his pets are safe during future emergencies.
“Andy understood how close he was to losing Savage,” says Jessica, who recommended Andy microchip the dogs and have an evacuation plan that includes pets.
Despite the damage caused by Hurricane Laura, Andy feels very fortunate that his dogs are okay.
“I was ecstatic to see Savage not only alive, but in good spirits and healthy,” he says. “I feel bad that some people won’t come back to collect their animals, but I also understand many may have nothing to come home to.”
Now safely in the loving care of Andy’s family, Savage and Deebo provide much-needed support and comfort as they rebuild their lives. They also seem to have no memory of their ordeal.
“I’m so grateful for these animals,” Andy says. “They love us no matter what.”
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