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UMFK alumna and veterinarian assists with animal welfare in post-Katrina Louisiana

December 23, 2005

NR05206

It is difficult to find much good when it comes to tragedy, and that was certainly the case with the recent awesome display of nature's fury that was Hurricane Katrina. The shocking images on television and accounts in the newspapers and on the Internet exposed our civilization's vulnerability. The human suffering that was displayed and documented was hard to view and almost impossible to fathom.

For some, including veterinarian Cheryl Ragalevsky, a 1981 graduate of the University of Maine at Fort Kent, the images inspired them to spring into action and make a difference.

Regalevsky traveled down to Louisiana on Sept 14, bringing along her medical knowledge to help the homeless animals of Louisiana, through her own expense.

As many watching what was unfolding, wondered about the status of the many pets that were obviously impacted, Ragalevsky was on the ground lending her expertise.

Prior to her arrival, she spent many long hours on the phone and the Internet, trying to communicate with people in the impacted areas.

Regalevsky finally succeeded and received an official invitation to help at one of the emergency shelters. She also had to negotiate some legal red tape with the Louisiana veterinary board to be allowed to practice once she arrived.

"It is amazing how much effort sometimes goes into being allowed to help," said Regalevsky.

Once on the scene, she witnessed firsthand the severe impact that the hurricane had had on the pet population in southern Louisiana. After negotiating shelter security, she entered the Parker Coliseum on the Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This was the home of a makeshift shelter that could hold approximately 1,200 animals.

As she entered, Regalevsky walked past row after row of stacked cat cages. The immensity of the problem hit home immediately, and it was a very emotional experience.

"The work at the shelter was far from glamorous. The shelter was not air-conditioned, and the daily temperatures were in the high 90's with very high humidity," said Regalevsky.

Despite her veterinary degree, she realized that there were many jobs that needed doing, and that she would have to do far more than just veterinary work if she was going to make an impact.

She worked long, hot, emotional 12-hour days doing whatever was necessary, from cleaning cages and litter boxes, to feeding, to comforting and counseling homeless pet owners, to doing veterinary work. All egos were checked at the door.

About 10 days after coming home, Regalevsky returned to Louisiana and spent another week working at the shelter. During this trip, many owners were reunited with their pets.

It was both heartwarming and sad, because she became so close to many of the dogs. Since the LSU shelter was scheduled to close on October 15, much time was spent sending unclaimed pets to shelters across the country, and performing general cleanup so that LSU could get back to business as usual.

Regalevsky says she met some amazing people while in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

"Every volunteer had a talent to share and every pet owner had a story to tell. It was an experience that I will not soon forget," added Regalevsky.

The UMFK alumna currently resides in Caledonia, New York.