Room in the boat

Sunday, May 1, 2011
Members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol set off by boat to patrol a flooded street and check for victims of a flash flood Monday in Poplar Bluff, Mo. (Jeff Roberson ~ Associated Press)

This column originally appeared as a Discover Nature blog on semissourian.com/blogs.

There was a particular news story during the Hurricane Katrina evacuations in 2005 that grabbed my heart more than others.

I don't know who wrote it, or what publication it was in, but there was a little boy who cried after his dog, Biscuit, when he had to evacuate by bus and leave his beloved puppy at home. Stories like that are unforgettable because we can all identify with that little boy somehow. Even folks who don't have pets have something near and dear to them that they couldn't bear to leave behind.

Well this time, there was room in the boat for Biscuit.

OK, so it wasn't the same dog. But conservation agent Eric Heuring was pleased to inform me after Monday night's boat evacuations and rescues in and around Poplar Bluff, Mo., that in addition to the 13 people he rescued, three dogs and a parakeet made it out safely as well. Heuring was working alongside emergency personnel from the Butler County Fire Department that evening.

"Everyone has something dear to them that they worry about," Heuring said. "People were worried about their pets and thankfully we were able to rescue the three dogs and the parakeet along with the families they belonged to."

It sounds kind of silly at first -- three dogs and a parakeet. I imagined poor Eric trying to balance the boat with dogs and a bird cage, hopefully centered in the boat. It becomes less silly when you realize the seriousness of the situation. Heuring said boating through a city environment is much different from taking a boat out on a lake or river.

"It was somewhat scary knowing that many of these houses with water coming in over their windows still had working electricity," he said. "But thankfully we kept a watchful eye and avoided the dangers."

It's scary also for children to face leaving their homes and pets behind. Three of the 13 people rescued were children.

"For the children, they just really didn't want to leave their homes," Heuring said, adding that it was a comfort to be able to at least bring pets along.

Heuring said when darkness came on, fears began to escalate.

"Most people realized once it began to get dark that they needed to get out," he said. "It was right around sundown that the phone really began to ring."

But there was a good outcome to this story, even for the pets.

They're someone's pride and joy. They're someone's "welcome home" at the end of a work day. It means something to save Biscuit, Fido or Jake. Or Polly. To someone, they're like family.

So this story will not be as memorable to the world as poor Biscuit's story was, but it will always be remembered by the families who got to take their beloved pets with them on Monday evening.

Thanks, Eric, for having room in the boat for the parakeet.

Candice Davis is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservations Southeast and Ozark regions. Though raised to appreciate the Missouri outdoors, Candice is discovering nature on a new and exciting level as she gets up close and personal with snakes, insects and Southeast Missouri's diverse landscape. Her goal is to share her learning experiences and show Southeast Missourians how they're directly connected to their land.

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