By Christian Cotroneo
"Floodwaters have a way of hiding the devastation that lurks beneath, wrapping the terrible toll of a disaster - ruined homes, churches, business, lives - in a murky embrace.
But Josh Pettit has seen a lot of hope. Often, it floats.
Like when he was boating through a flood-ravaged area near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, this week, where neighborhoods once stood, and all he could see was dark, angry water for miles around.
But then he spotted a pair of eyes staring at him, wide-eyed with terror, from just above the surface.
A dog, treading wildly to stay above the water that was around 8-feet high.
"She was so tired," he tells The Dodo. "We got her in the boat and she was exhausted."
Pettit says the dog rested her head on his lap and cried and moaned.
That was Sadie. And since being hauled from the depths, she's been reunited with her owner.
But that wasn't the end for Pettit, who's been part of a group of locals plying the waters and helping any humans and animals they find.
Along the way, he and his friends are putting their lives at risk. But that hardly matters.
"I'm here because I'm a local and this is my community and local people," he says. "We take care of one another down here."
If you happen to be in Louisiana these days, you will likely hear that same refrain a lot. The nation's worst disaster since 2012's Hurricane Sandy has seen at least 13 people killed, and thousands more displaced.
6,900,000,000,000 gallons of water in a single week will do that.
But while around 20 parishes are underwater, heroes are also rising to the surface. People like Pettit. And Mike Anderson and Darrell Watson, who have been saving dogs, literally, from death's doorstep, since the disaster began.
People who see every life as precious and worth saving.
That's why animal rescue groups and individuals are scrambling in the region, working together to find housing for pets who had to be evacuated from shelters that no longer exist.
"We're helping to get the animals to come out, getting them fostered, getting them in homes, getting the adopted," Kathy Perra, director of Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO), tells The Dodo.
From Instagram: "Pets can be the most comforting in difficult times. Happy that this shelter has allowed displaced people to take their fur babies with them. Pic by Deborah Burst #repost... "Talk about a picture worth a thousand words from the #LouisianaFlood. This is Celtic Center in Baton Rouge which houses thousands of people with flooded homes. Thousands bedding with their pets..."
Rescue groups are making sorties into flooded areas, hauling back cats, dogs and other pets from shelters that simply disappeared in the downpour. Thousands of pets, both lost and evacuated from shelters, are being hosted in temporary facilities.
"I don't know how to explain it," an emotional Perra explains. "It's just devastating out there. There are parishes that have lost 60 percent of their homes or more. The people who are displaced, they have animals.
"When they were evacuated, people weren't able to take their animals."
And pets, as we've seen time and time again, are key to bringing hope and healing in times of disaster.
"A lot of these areas don't typically flood," Perra explains. "There's a lot of people with no flood insurance. My heart just goes out to them. What do you do?"
"What do you do when you lose your family member? Your animal is your family member," she said. "People are frantically searching for them."
ARNO, along with groups like Villalobos Rescue Center, has been working tirelessly to haul animals out of Baton Rouge-area shelters, while pleading with the public to foster them.
"They're looking for homes anyway," Perra says. "And for those that are owned, they didn't come from shelters, every effort is going to be made to try to find their owners."
The group is hardly the only rescue organization that has leapt into the breach. Many groups, as well as individuals are working together to help countless animals in desperate need.
"I'm just so amazed at the way people have stepped up," Perra adds. "We're getting such an outpouring from the public, from people who want to be volunteers."
And just as floodwaters have a way of hiding the horrors below, so too must the recede and reveal the long road to rebuilding that lies ahead.
Perra says the most important work is yet to come.
"Everyone's gung ho and ready to go now," she says. "But there's the aftermath. There's going to be a lot of rebuilding that has to go on. These shelters are devastated. They're either going to be completely nonexistent or very different.
"They need resources. They need people."'
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