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Monday, September 05, 2005

Interesting Read Part One

Hope on the horizon for Dr. James Riopelle, who is refusing to evacuate a New Orleans hospital until the animals under his charge are also taken
A New Orleans physician is making a defiant stand at a city hospital, refusing to evacuate until the animals with him are also evacuated, and defying orders to euthanize the pets.

Anesthesiologist James Riopelle went to his workplace, Mercy/Lindy Boggs Hospital in New Orleans, to ride out the storm with his wife, mother-in-law, and two elderly cats. He and the other employees were invited to take their pets with them to the hospital.

But when the area around the hospital flooded – and there proved to be no “riding out” Hurricane Katrina – the hospital made arrangements to evacuate all of the staff and patients, but refused to let them take their pets along.

“It was a real ‘Sophie’s Choice,’” Riopelle’s wife, New Orleans dentist Jamie Manders, says of the demand that people leave their pets behind. “People were crying hysterically, hugging one another, it was horrible.”

An Associated Press story also recounts the anguish of the people who had to leave their pets, describing a liver transplant recipient who was forced to choose between the drugs he needed to stay alive, and his dogs.

Manders was one of the first to evacuate the hospital, because she was with her 83-year-old mother, who is crippled and has Alzheimers’ disease. She was distressed about leaving her husband when she departed Wednesday night, but she had no idea that he would be left alone in the hospital for several more days.

Riopelle originally stayed back because he was charged with euthanizing the 50 to 100 animals that had been taken to the hospital by staff and patients.

He refused. He was told to leave the animals and evacuate the hospital. He refused that order, too.

“If you knew James, it is so like him to do something like this,” says Manders. “I’ve been with this man for 26 years and he is always doing things that seem crazy, and he always comes out smelling like a rose.”

She says her husband has always been devoted to animals, and willing tomake a stand on their behalf.

Previously, the physician/professor had raised the ire of his academic colleagues when he told the media about a study one colleague was doing that involved shooting cats in the head to study head trauma. When the media reports got out, the funding for the research was yanked.

“Fifteen years ago, he made a decision that he would never harm another animal as long as he lived, and he has been a total vegan since then,” his wife says. “He is soft-spoken and non-confrontational, but that man has conviction like I’ve never seen.”

Riopelle has been calling Manders for about a minute each night since Wednesday, on a cell phone with a dying battery. She has gotten general information about his condition but few details, such as the exact number of animals who are with him.

She knows that he is by himself in a hospital that has been flooded and looted, without electricity or running water, caring for dozens of animals – and in the company of 100 dead bodies.

“It was already bad when I left Wednesday night. It has gotten a lot worse since then,” she says.

She also knows that Riopelle has gotten some help over the last couple of days. The company that manages the hospital delivered some food and water for him – but refused to bring any for the animals. Then, on Sunday, the sheriff of Jefferson Parish made a drop of dog and cat food onto the roof of the hospital.

Since her husband began his vigil, Manders has contacted anybody and everybody she could to try to get the story out. She e-mailed everybody she could think of, and has been in contact with major media outlets about the story.

Eventually, her efforts caught the attention of the company that manages the hospital, and Sunday, it was making arrangements to have the animals evacuated.

Late Sunday night, she heard from her husband again. He had crated all of the animals and carried them down five flights of stairs from the roof, to meet a helicopter that had been sent to get him. As the helicopter arrived, its engine blew up. Although no one was hurt, that was the end of the rescue attempt.

And so, Dr. Riopelle continues to wait. . .

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