Gas well leak traumatizes evacuees' pets

By Jeff Ferrell – bio|email

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) – It appears mental fatigue is beginning to catch up with the fifty or so families still waiting to return home two weeks after a gas well leak forced their evacuation from south Caddo Parish.  That fatigue extends to their pets, as well.  And it's beginning to show.

A large number of evacuees still out of their homes, because they live within a half-mile radius of the well site, are pet owners.   Most of them are staying at the Clarion Hotel on East 70th Street in south Shreveport, which does not allow pets.  And that's causing a lot of the problems.

Pointing to his small, white poodle evacuee Braden Contario gestured, "Yeah, you can see he's been crying.  He's been crying every day."  And, by all accounts the dog did look pretty sad.  "His name's Casey.  Casey Jaycee Contario," recited the proud owner.

But Casey the poodle has spent the last two weeks caged most of the time at a private kennel.  "It aggravated me and makes me want to cry at the same time, you know what I mean because this is just like my brother, this is like my son."

He's not alone.  Meet Simon, a Chiweenie, and his owners Patricia Cole and Mark Brown.  "He was potty trained and everything.  And all the sudden..." began Cole.  Brown finished, "well, you know how it is.  You get jerked out of your family, you get took out of your environment."

The couple brought Simon to stay with Mark's mother during this evacuation, even though the gas company, Exco, is paying to put dogs up in kennels.  "I'm not going to put him in a kennel.  Now, we have some friends that have their dog in a kennel and they're losing weight, they're not eating.  I'm just not going to do it.  He's been with us…" as Simon stopped Patricia in mid-sentence with a lick to the cheek.

We caught up with Braden Contario in south Shreveport Monday (5/03) afternoon, soon after he picked-up Casey from that private kennel.  Braden said neither the kennel nor its staff did anything wrong whatsoever.  Contario said Simon had just become a nervous wreck away from him and home.

Braden then instructed, "Feel him.  Just rub your hand down his back.  You can feel his bones, man.  I just fed him a pack of hot dogs and he 'throwed them up.'  He wasn't even chewing 'em up.  He was eating them whole," worried Contario.

Other evacuee pet owners must return to their homes briefly day-to-day, often with a deputy escort, to check on animals left behind.  We called the Caddo Sheriff's Office to see if we could go with a property owner or two as they did so, but was told no, citing safety concerns.

And we're told that's not likely to change until Louisiana State Police deem the well site stable and safe.  Patricia Cole concluded, "I just want to go home.  I want to go home.  Don't we?" as Simon gave an approving lick to the cheek.

Exco executive Bill Chaney told me that crews are making progress at the well site, as they work to reduce gas flow and pressure.  In a best case scenario, he's hoping these final evacuees could return home at the end of this week.

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