Volunteer Animal Rescuers Use GPS To Save Free-Roaming Ex-Pets in Storm-Stricken Louisiana

St. Bernard Parish, La. – April 20, 2006 – When darkness falls over the Katrina-ravaged and mostly uninhabited parishes surrounding New Orleans, animal-rescue volunteer Annie Lancaster packs up her Magellan eXplorist handheld GPS receiver and goes to work.  Her mission: making her way through the darkness to set and retrieve traps designed to help control the exploding population of free-roaming cats and dogs that were household pets until they were left homeless by last summer’s hurricane.

A veterinarian technician, experienced humane trapper and FEMA–certified volunteer from California, Annie is on her fifth three-week tour in the devastated parishes.  In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, she worked to rescue stranded animals trapped on rooftops, in trees and inside homes. Now it’s a race to keep the spread of breeding animals in check.

“The animals don’t come out in the daylight anymore,” Annie said.  “Cats and dogs are running wild; the dogs often travel in packs, and growing numbers of both cats and dogs are now being born feral.  Our job is to work through the night to humanely capture as many of these animals as we can.” 

Saving Time With GPS
Annie is a among a band of hardy, dedicated volunteers living in tents in a staging area, initially on the grounds of the Lamar Dixon animal shelter and rescue center some 50 miles outside New Orleans and now in the FEMA-operated Camp Premier in Chalmette, St. Bernard parish.

“We’re volunteers from around the nation, skilled in animal capture and rescue,” she said.  “But as newcomers to this area, which is still without most of its street signs, we’d be lost without a GPS, spending time and gasoline driving around or walking in the woods trying to get our bearings.  With so many bodies of water around, it’s hard to stay oriented, particularly at night.  I know; I did it without GPS on my first two trips here.  I used to spend maybe 40 percent of my time studying maps and scratching my head or driving around lost. Since I got the Magellan eXplorist 400, my productivity has zoomed and my gas consumption has plummeted. It’s awesome.” 

The humane traps Annie and her colleagues set in the woods during the night must be checked every couple of hours.  “I drive down dirt roads with no visible names and walk through the woods to establish trap sites,” she said.  “I hit the Magellan’s button to mark the location and label it so I have no problem returning and finding the camouflaged trap. I set the GPS receiver’s alarm to let me know when I’m a quarter of mile away from an existing trap.  From there, I simply follow the directions provided by the eXplorist GPS, with the detailed street maps downloaded from Magellan software, and I’m right back at the trap.” 

Returning to the traps frequently, usually within two hours, is critical, according to Annie. “If a cat gets into a dog trap and dogs get there before I do, they’ll break in and kill a cat that’s inside,” she said.  We try to get both cats and dogs out of the traps as quickly as we can.  Otherwise, they become too stressed and may even harm themselves trying to escape.” 

Annie points out that the dog packs that have formed tend to stay in their own territories.  When she spots a new pack, she marks the location on her eXplorist and returns later to set new traps.

“Ironically,” Annie says, “I get help from an advanced feature in the eXplorist GPS that tells hunters and fishermen the best times to find game and fish.  I’ve found that when the system indicates good hunting times, it’s also a good time to track my animals. And when it says it’s not a good time to hunt, my tracking work is usually slow.  The shrimp fishermen down here have even taken to asking me when it says the fishing will be good.”

Home Sweet Home
Once back at the animal shelters the dogs and cats are bathed and provided with medical care. Their photo and other data, including sex, color, markings and where they were captured, are placed on the Internet-accessible data base, www.petfinder.com, to help in reuniting them with their owners or finding homes for adoption.  Annie’s particular specialty is rescuing reptiles and amphibians, such as Ball pythons and Boa constrictors.  Of these types of pets that have been placed in her care, Annie has successfully reunited 85 percent with their owners.

About Annie Lancaster
Annie Lancaster is executive director of TortoiseAid International, a non-profit California corporation dedicated to educating the public and halting the exploitation of tortoises, turtles, terrapins, sea turtles and all wildlife worldwide.  Tortoise Aid operates a sanctuary/rehabilitation center in the Western Mojave Desert. For more information, visitwww.tortoise-aid.org.

About the Magellan eXplorist 400
The Magellan eXplorist 400 is a rugged, compact, grayscale GPS receiver that provides advanced features and powerful performance at a great value to meet the more diverse navigation needs of today’s consumer – both in the city and the outdoors. www.magellanGPS.com.

About Thales’ Navigation Business
Thales is a leading international electronics and systems group serving defense, aerospace, security and services markets. The Group employs 60,000 people throughout the world and generated revenues of 10.3 billion Euros in 2004.

Thales’ navigation business is a global innovator of navigation and positioning solutions. The company markets its Magellan brand GPS products in vehicle navigation and outdoor markets, and its professional GPS and GNSS solutions in the survey, GIS/Mapping, and OEM markets that include consumer electronics, automotive navigation and high-precision applications. Also, through its joint venture with Hertz, Thales Navigation has developed the Hertz NeverLost® vehicle navigation system.

Thales’ navigation business is headquartered in Santa Clara, Calif., with European headquarters in Carquefou, France. For more information, visit www.thalesgroup.com/navigation.