Sugar and Ivory
It’s odd but I will always think of two dogs when I think of the long night that Hurricane Rita struck Dry Creek Camp.
We had 350 people on our grounds. They had been moved and bedded down in our most solid dorms and everyone took enough food and water for the next thirty hours when we were told to expect strong winds. Flashlights and radios were distributed and we locked down and awaited the storm.
As I left the house to return to the camp, I loaded up one of our most prized possessions- our yellow Labrador, Ivory. She has been my faithful friend for over eight years. If you’ve seen one of my first three books she graces the cover of each one.
Back at the camp office we made a pad for her on the floor. Ivory is very scared of storms. She has pushed her way into the house during loud thunderstorms. At ninety pounds she is hard to drag out when she gets under a table during lightning and thunder.
I commented to everyone that I’d brought Ivory to comfort her during the storm. But I’d really brought her because I wanted her comfort for me.
When I went through a personal storm in my life, Ivory was always there for me. I suffered through a terrible time of deep depression in 2000. During that dark time Ivory always sat by me in the long days and nights of hopelessness. She never gave me a word of advice but simply gave me her full and undivided attention.
God healed me through a wonderful combination of His grace, great doctors, medication, and time. Among that combination of healing things was a dog named Ivory. Animals have the ability to heal and calm. There is something about petting a dog that brings soothing and solace.
As the storm intensifies, from time to time I put my hand down to touch Ivory. It is good to have her with me. In spite of the blowing winds and flying debris, she sleeps peacefully.
The first radio SOS call comes after midnight. A frantic voice says, “I’ve got a boy in cabin 7 who has quit breathing and is turning blue.” I pull on my raincoat and rush to the cabin where I find a teenaged Katrina evacuee is laid out on a dorm porch bench. He is breathing but having a hard time.
Our paramedic Shane arrives. I am so thankful that he has been with us during the many medical crises of these past weeks. Lewis is hyperventilating and can’t seem to calm down. Shane works with him and lets us all know that Lewis is evidently having an anxiety attack. I look around at the worried faces of those from the neighboring dorms.
After the evacuee begins to calm down and breathe better, someone grabs Shane and says, “Come next door, there’s a dog that is really sick.” Shane leaves and later returns muttering, “I can help people but I don’t know much about dogs.” One of the evacuees tells me that this dog is having a hard time with the storm.
I walk next door and meet Sugar. She is a rat terrierand it is quickly evident from her gray muzzle and few teeth that Sugar is very old. She is held by Mrs. Shirley, age 80, whom we call “Nanny.”
Sugar is in great distress. Her eyes are bulging out in fear and her breathing is labored and loud. Knowing rat terriers and their high strung tendencies I am aware that Sugar is having an anxiety attack of her own.
Nanny holds him closely and talks soothingly to her but to little avail. This dog knows that something very wrong is up with the weather and is instinctively fearful of it.
No soothing words or petting can calm Sugar down.
Over at dorm seven, our hyperventilating evacuee is now settled down so we push everyone back into their dorms and urge them to stay inside.
Going back to the truck someone shouts above the howling wind, “This big dog looks like she is limping because she is hurt.” It is Ivory. She’s just limping along with her arthritic hips. A big smile is on her face as she tromps through the standing water. She must have followed me out of the office. Why she isn’t scared I don’t know. We quickly load her up in the bed of the truck and head back to the office.
The rest of the night is a long story of falling trees, emergency calls to other dorms, and little or no sleep. But as I lay on the couch in the office, I can feel Ivory on the floor beside me. Her snoring and breathing brings a comfort of her own.
The storm’s fury is at its worst just before dawn. Trees have fallen everywhere. Throughout the day hurricane followed by then tropical force winds continue to fell trees.
Later that evening as the winds abate, I walk over to Dorm 7. Everyone is okay but a lady tells me, “Sugar didn’t make it.” She points to a small fresh grave with a twig-made cross on it. I’m not surprised at Sugar’s death. A heart can only take so much.
I promise them that we will get a small marker placed there. Nanny is sitting there on the porch. She looks much older than even her eighty years belies. Losing your home in an earlier storm is a terrible thing. Losing a beloved pet in another storm, especially a pet of fifteen years, is a great loss not to be underestimated.
The night that Rita came ashore will always be remembered.
It will not be forgotten for the people of southwest Louisiana, whether they stayed or went north. The hours of waiting and wondering were tedious. At the camp we will always remember the faces of the evacuees. Full of concern, stress, yet resolution as the storm approached and blew through.
But even after time has faded their faces and I’ve forgotten many of their names, I’ll measure this night by the faces of two dogs: a country yellow lab named Ivory and a New Orleans terrier called Sugar.
“Sugar and Ivory” from the book, Hearts across the Water by Curt Iles