Molly Wald, Best Friends
Rich Crook of Best Friends Animal Society saves kittens from a barn near Oakville, Iowa, Wednesday.

A special rapid-response team from southern Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society is in flood-ravaged Iowa this week, trying to rescue dozens of stranded family pets and other animals.

"It's a familiar scene," said Rich Crook, Best Friends rapid-response manager, in a statement issued by Best Friends.

Crook is one of many Best Friends employees and volunteers who spent weeks saving animals in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

This time around, Crook is leading a four-person, swift-water rescue team that landed near the tiny rural town of Oakville, about 40 miles from the city of Davenport.

The team responded to an official request from the Iowa Emergency Operations Center and brought a 14-foot boat used during the New Orleans rescue effort.

More than 5 feet of water has washed over Oakville, forcing companion animals to higher ground and threatening the lives of hundreds of pigs from a local pig farm, according to the statement.

Survey work is being done first, with the goal of identifying how many animals are actually stranded throughout the area and where they are located, said Best Friends spokesman John Polis.

Most of the animals are family pets residents were forced to leave behind as they fled rising floodwaters, he said.

"So far, the team has rescued one mother cat and two kitties. They were found upstairs in a flooded house," Polis said. "We estimate there may be 60 animals that we need to rescue."

Polis said "downtown Oakville is awash" and he expects the rescue effort to last at least three days. Saving the surviving pigs may not be possible, however, after the hogs were spotted on top of a levee, Crook said.

"Unfortunately, because the pigs are damaging the levee, local officials have given permission for locals to shoot the pigs to protect the levee," he said. "So far more than 20 pigs have been killed. But fortunately, most of the people we've talked with, including the Iowa State Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, are willing to seek an alternative, in spite of the fact that the pigs pose a danger to the levee."

There's no way of knowing at this point whether the pigs can really be saved, Polis said.

"That's really up to Iowa officials. We don't usually get to work on farm animals," he said.

After the companion animals are rescued, the Best Friends team will hand them over to local authorities. Owners are beginning to call Best Friends and Iowa officials about retrieving their animals, Polis said.

Best Friends Animal Society is one of the nation's foremost animal rescue organizations and operates the country's largest sanctuary for abused and abandoned animals. To learn more about the rescue effort in Iowa, visit bestfriends.org or e-mail animalhelp@bestfriends.org


E-mail: nperkins@desnews.com