Category Archives: Health

Abandoned in the Flood

October 06, 2005

Timmy DeRusha is Loretta Lynn’s tour manager. With a week off the road from a current performance trek, DeRusha didn’t lounge around his Tennessee home resting up for the next round of concerts. Instead, he spent the time in flood-ravaged New Orleans rescuing dogs and cats left behind when their owners fled the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Katrina.

Along with his father-in-law and brother-in-law, DeRusha loaded a pickup truck and cargo van with medical supplies and food donated by Nashville-area veterinarians, then headed to New Orleans. “The smell of that city . . . You could smell it from miles away, driving in over the bridge,” DeRusha recalled in a recent telephone conversation. With signs reading “Disaster Response Animal Rescue” posted on their vehicles, DeRusha’s group was escorted by a local fisherman who had previously supplied boats to various animal rescuers as needed. Guards posted outside the city allowed the group in after recognizing the fisherman. “We were armed, because [the guards] said that we might run across someone who wasn’t supposed to be in [New Orleans],” said DeRusha.

At some homes, DeRusha’s crew brought out dogs and cats while National Guard troops removed dead humans from the house next door. “People that left had spray-painted ‘PETS INSIDE’ or ‘DOG NEEDS RESCUED’ on plywood-covered windows in hopes that somebody would be coming along to get them,” said DeRusha. “But some of the animals had gotten stuck on balconies or rooftops and weren’t able to get down.” He said most of the animals were not vicious. “Most were traumatized, because they hadn’t had food or fresh water for two weeks,” DeRusha explained. “After we gave them dog treats and water and they realized that we were there to help them, then it was no problem at all. A lot of them were just really, really scared because all of a sudden the person that had been there taking care of them, in their mind, had deserted them. Then all this stuff happened that they had never seen happen before, with all the water coming in. The animals were survivors. Unfortunately, there were a lot of animals that we were too late for.”

An animal rescue volunteer coaxes a dog to safety. (click for larger version)


DeRusha and his crew used poles with nooses to catch dogs. “If they were too vicious, we just left fresh food and water. I’d say that nearly half the animals that we rescued were pit bulls. We were working in the inner-city area, mostly. That’s obviously what they do there, they raise dogs to fight. Some of the dogs needed rescuing whether there was a hurricane or not. They weren’t being taken care of . . . One was a three-month old pit bull pup. He tried to act like the most vicious of all, but when we gave him some food he began acting like a typical puppy.” 

Other scenarios were simply horrifying. A pair of pit bulls were discovered in one abandoned home. The female was emaciated, though it was obvious she had delivered a litter days earlier. DeRusha could not locate the litter and surmised that the male, who appeared well-fed, had cannibalized it.

Rescued animals were crated, with the address of recovery marked on the crate so pets could possibly be reunited with owners. For five days straight, DeRusha hauled approximately 30 dogs and cats each day to Tylertown, Mississippi, where a temporary animal sanctuary had been erected on five acres of farmland. 

The Greater Birmingham Humane Society (GBHS) brought more than 300 rescued animals back to Birmingham from Tylertown, Hattiesburg, and Jackson, Mississippi, where animals had been sheltered prior to rescue groups such as GBHS arriving. GBHS director Jacque Meyer was impressed by the number of people who came from across the country to help in the animal rescue effort. “It’s been very, very sad, but I am amazed at the number of people in the United States that have made an effort, using vacation time and their own money, to rescue these animals.” Meyer said that an abandoned warehouse in the Gonzalez area of New Orleans sat on higher ground that had stayed relatively dry. Abandoned animals migrated to the warehouse area, though some people were observed dumping off animals at the site. Food and water were supplied to the homeless animals at the site by the few officials allowed into New Orleans until the animals could be taken away.

Approximately 75 percent of the animals that Jacque Meyer brought to Birmingham were dogs, the rest being cats, along with an occasional goat or pig. They were medically treated at GBHS until the North Shore Animal League, an organization that finds homes for more than 30,000 animals yearly, took them to its New York state headquarters where they will be housed until either the owners find their animals through the web site, or until the animals can be adopted.

“People that left had spray-painted ‘PETS INSIDE’ or ‘DOG NEEDS RESCUED’ on plywood-covered windows in hopes that somebody would be coming along to get them.” Meyer said the trauma endured by abandoned animals continued to affect many even weeks after being rescued. “Some wouldn’t sleep lying down because they were so used to standing up so they could survive,” she explained, adding that some rescued dogs kept trying to swim each time they were lifted up into the arms of shelter workers, even though they had been away from flood waters for days. &

Russian Roulette — Cahaba River

2004-01-29 tracking City Hall

Can the Cahaba River survive another commercial development? The Birmingham City Council and the Mayor’s office proudly declare that they don’t know and don’t care.

“This could be absolutely the most important decision that we make in our lives,” warned Councilor Carol Reynolds at the January 13 Birmingham City Council meeting. The list of problems that plague the Cahaba River, the drinking source for 25 percent of Alabama residents, includes low oxygen levels, high bacteria levels, and toxins such as metals, insecticides, and herbicides. “Higher water purification costs will increase costs for rate payers,” Reynolds added.

Her colleagues on the council dais, however, refused to budge from their determination to boost the city’s economic fortunes—even if that means the degradation of the river. Voting 6 to 3 [Reynolds, Councilor Valerie Abbott, and Councilor Joel Montgomery opposed the project] to approve the development of 256 acres into a subdivision in the Overton Community by Grants Mill Estates, LLC., the council joined surrounding municipalities in another round of Russian roulette with one of the nation’s cleanest (for now) water systems.

The development will include 281 single-family homes and 14 apartment buildings (totalling 464 units). Originally, developers wanted to include a service station on the land that is part of the Cahaba watershed, but at least the city had enough sense to make them toss out that idea. Other concessions from the developers include retaining vegetation along Grants Mill Road and expanding a 50-foot buffer zone protecting tributaries of the Cahaba to 100 feet.

“This project is going to discharge dirt into a tributary and then into the Cahaba River,” said Alabama Environmental Council attorney Bart Slawson, who has threatened to sue over the development because of permit violations regarding the amount of sediment allowed into the river. “The bells and whistles [in the covenants protecting the Cahaba] will not change the discharge.” The position of the Alabama Environmental Council is that the Cahaba River cannot tolerate any more sediment. The river is currently listed by the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] and Alabama Department of Environmental Management [ADEM] as so polluted already by sediment that any additional pollution will severely impact water quality, according to an e-mail sent by Slawson to the City Council.

A recent meeting between the developers, the council, and other city officials, to ensure that steps are taken to protect the Cahaba, exposed some bitter truths regarding Councilor Elias Hendricks’ willingness to exclude the public from meetings with councilors [any meeting with a quorum of the Council present is an open meeting, unless the meeting is declared an executive session involving litigation or discussion of someone's character]. Hendricks criticized councilors at a council meeting two weeks earlier for urging the public to attend the meeting with developers. “When you’re working out differences, the fewer people involved, the better. It’s not like you’re hiding anything from the public,” said Hendricks with a straight face. “When you’re sitting down, trying to negotiate a solution, and you’re going to be dealing with scientific things, I think the fewer people in the room, the better.” Hendricks did not explain why the public should not be privy to “scientific things,” but then, condescension is the norm at City Hall. As usual, a flippant Councilor Bert Miller could not resist sticking his foot in his mouth. “We act like these developers are terrorists. They’re not going to poison our drinking water!”

Also at issue is the $250,000 that Birmingham and surrounding municipalities contributed to the Upper Cahaba Watershed Study. The Zoning Committee, chaired by Councilor Abbott, had recommended that the council wait until the study is completed in the spring before acting on the development. Councilor Reynolds questioned why so much money was spent if the study was just going to be ignored. “We have just funded a study and taken taxpayer dollars and thrown them out the window,” said Reynolds in disgust. “It is our responsibility to protect public health and public drinking water.”

In an interview after the council action had been taken, Mayor Bernard Kincaid agreed with Council President Lee Loder’s assessment that development in the Cahaba watershed was inevitable. “How does Birmingham balance those very, very competing interests of development, which are absolutely necessary for us to grow, and yet protect what is one of the highest quality water systems in the nation?” asked the Mayor. “That’s a tough call. At some point Birmingham has to get in the mix.” With absolutely no hint of irony, Kincaid described the balance between economic development and water protection as “a kind of ecological balance.” After admitting that he was “comfortable” with the conditions his staff reached with developers regarding the watershed protection, Kincaid seemed to contradict himself. “Where the need for development and preserving the pristine quality of the water intersect is the point where you start making compromises,” said the Mayor. “And I’m not sure that we can compromise the water quality at all.”

Kincaid disagreed with Councilor Reynolds that the $250,000 spent for the Upper Cahaba Watershed Study was a waste of money. Insisting that Birmingham has done more than other local jurisdictions to protect the Cahaba River, Kincaid said, “I don’t hear other municipalities being pushed back from their development ideas based on the outcome of something as nebulous as a study.” This statement begs the question, why spend $250,000 on a study if one believes studies are nebulous? &

Vet On Wheels

Vet On Wheels


For dogs and cats devastated by the anxiety of veterinarian waiting rooms, Dr. Vaughn Walker offers an option that resurrects a tradition long forgotten by the modern world: a doctor who makes house calls. “Seventy years ago that’s how veterinarians worked, going to homes,” says Dr. Walker, who started Comforts of Home Vet Care last April, one of only two licensed small animal mobile practices in the state.

“Lots of animals do better in their own environment. They’re usually calmer, more willing to be worked with,” explains Walker. “I pretty much handle the routine things: vaccinations, heartworm checks, check-ups-minor stuff. I’m not really equipped to handle emergencies. No general anesthesia, just mild sedation. I don’t put them totally under because that requires things such as oxygen and monitoring.”

Front porches, living room floors, and kitchen tables generally serve as examination areas. Pregnancy tests, gastrointestinal problems, ear infections, and the treatment of minor injuries are among the services offered. Walker occasionally sees exotic pets but most of those are difficult to treat. “I’ve seen a few sick lizards, and I do wing and beak trims on birds,” says the Doc.

Home vet care can be an indispensable asset for the elderly who can’t drive or have difficulty corralling an animal for the arduous trip to the vet. Most of the dogs Walker has seen have been large breeds, which can be difficult to squeeze into an automobile. Dr. Walker will even transport your pet to the clinic in his Jeep Cherokee (which he keeps stocked with iced-down vaccines) should the need arise. His fee for a house call is a flat $40, regardless of the number of animals to be examined. Any vaccinations, blood work, or other tests are additional costs.

Dr. Walker services Jefferson and north Shelby Counties from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and is affiliated with the Galleria Animal Clinic. He can be contacted at 907-4000. For pet emergencies, call Emergency Pet Care at 988-5988.

A Wizard’s Touch

A Wizard’s Touch


The most prolific and despised weed known to mankind is Toxicodendron radicans, or poison ivy, a member of the cashew family. The plant’s oily resin is absolutely malevolent, an evil essence legendary for driving humans to the edge of madness. The toxic ingredient is urushiol, an element so potent that a drop the size of a pinhead is enough to affect 50 people. Eighteen years ago, pharmacist Roland Nelson, owner of Reynolds Drugs on Green Springs Highway, decided he’d had enough. He began swapping ideas with other chemists to combat the dreaded menace and one day conjured up a potion revered for its remarkable powers to soothe the torturous itch of poison ivy. (without the aid of prescription ingredients). “This is just something that intrigues me,” Nelson explains about his fascination with blending medicinal compounds. “Compounding has always been one of my loves. Mixing drugs and putting things together.”

Nelson calls his concoction Medi-Summer Gel. His customers call it “goat juice” or “Roland’s magic poison ivy medicine.” Whatever the label, Nelson’s reputation as a wizard is not unfounded. “When I can do something like this and my patients come back to me and say this works, I get a real good feeling out of it,” Nelson confesses. The pharmacist brews a new batch weekly in a lengthy five-hour process.

The blend is really not so mysterious. “It’s mostly over-the-counter,” Nelson says, revealing the secrets of his homemade tonic: “We put diphenhydramine in, and we put promazine in it for the itching. We put hydrocortisone in it and put it in a base. And when it dries, it forms a film over the poison ivy so it kind of protects it a little and keeps it from draining. And we put a little menthol and camphor in it to help stop the itching and to give it a cooling effect.” Nelson doesn’t hesitate to brag about the potency of his mystical ointment, though he envisions no pot of gold at the end of the alchemy rainbow. “It has worked really well. It’s not something that I go out and advertise in the magazines and all that. Basically, I do it for my customers.”

Holy Cow, It’s Good!

Holy Cow, It’s Good!


Promised Land Dairy in Floresville, Texas, is truly the land of milk and honey. On 1,300 acres of mesquite-covered countryside once occupied by honey bee hives, 1,100 Jersey cows graze in divine splendor, producing milk so hallowed that the dairy prints the words of Deuteronomy 26:9 on each bottle. Having sampled several flavors, we can attest to the fact that the milk is indeed richer and creamier than most brands. That’s because Promised Land milk flows from the supple, velvety teats of doe-eyed brown Jersey cows, rather than being jettisoned from the tough-nippled jugs of black-and-white spotted Holsteins, which are used by most dairies. Jersey cows produce milk with more calcium, protein, and nonfat milk solids.



Promised Land milk, a staple on Texas grocery shelves for 13 years and currently sold in 27 states, began appearing in Birmingham dairy cases at Super Target and Wal-Mart Super Centers a month ago. Glass quart bottles sell for about $2, and they are worth it. Homogenized white milk, 2 percent reduced fat, and fat-free milk are available, as are chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, banana, and peach flavors. The latter cries out for fresh peaches, vanilla ice cream, and a blender, ditto the strawberry flavor. As for the rich chocolate milk, Promised Land may have produced the current gold standard.

The Promised Land farm is an integrated independent dairy operation, an old-fashioned throwback to the days when a dairy controlled the herd and its diet, processed the milk, and supervised its distribution. “There are many dairies that have herds. But not many of them have cows and a creamery,” says Melody Campbell-Goeken, who handles public relations for the dairy. “It’s one of the last integrated independent dairies in Texas, and probably one of the few in the nation.”

The automation and biotechnology of the modern dairy industry has resulted in a bland product with little distinction between brands flavor-wise. Unlike its competitors, who inject cattle with artificial hormones to increase production, Promised Land refrains from the practice. “They tried using hormones with the product years ago, and the cows just would not produce the milk with the same flavor. So they decided not to use any more hormones,” explains Campbell-Goeken. The milk is available only in glass bottles, which add a nostalgic touch while keeping the product colder and fresher.

During the holiday season, the dairy offers its lavish egg nog, which tastes like melted ice cream. The egg nog is so distinctive that the label is adorned with its own Bible verse, Isaiah 11:6: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the goat, and the calf and the lion and the yearling together, and a little child shall lead them.”