For New Orleans neighbor Michelle Ingram, helping animals has been a large part of her life for as long as she can remember.
“It’s always been a hobby of mine, if you could call it that,” she said. Between a high-powered job and raising a family, Michelle helped abandoned animals with what little free time she had on weekends and after work – that is, until Katrina hit.
Her family was safe, but they lost everything in the devastating floods. “I realized the physical things just didn’t matter,” Michelle recalls. “I decided to dedicate myself to what I was passionate about.” After picking up the pieces of their lives in the wake of the floods, Michelle quit her job and purchased an old, run-down grocery store, immediately starting to transform it.
Not long after, Zeus’ Place was born. Michelle describes it as a pet boarding and grooming center by day, and a rescue shelter by night. The boarding and grooming services help to fund the rescue side of the organization, covering the medical expenses and care for abandoned pets looking for forever homes from all across Louisiana.
This past month, Michelle got the call: Baton Rouge, specifically the Denham Springs area, was being hit by floods, and many of the rescue centers in the area were going underwater. Hundreds of animals’ lives were at risk. Unable to do anything else in such a short amount of time, rescue centers were opening the kennel doors and letting dogs and cats swim for their lives.
“It immediately brought back memories of Katrina,” Michelle says. “This time, I was in a position to help. I started making calls – we had to get to Baton Rouge to save those animals.”
A friend at a local party supply business came through, offering up the company’s party bus for Michelle to use. After a five minute crash course on driving the bus, she was on the road, headed straight to the heart of the floods and ready to pick up as many animals as the bus could safely hold.
“It was unbelievable, what I saw when I got there,” she says. “Dogs were on the roofs of shelters, trying to survive. Cats were swimming in circles through the floodwater. Many of them were injured, with broken legs or cuts and scrapes from debris in the water.”
Michelle gathered as many animals and cages as she could, filling the bus to capacity by herself. She set off for a relay point at a rescue shelter in another town, which had volunteers and medical supplies on standby to help. Once the animals were safely there, she turned around and headed back. As the storms raged on, the flooding shifted, making Michelle criss-cross town to save animals at shelters that were on high-enough ground just a day earlier. After eight days of rescue trips, local volunteers were finally able to rally and help. Only then did Michelle head back to New Orleans.
Over the next few days, many of the animals Michelle had rescued found their way to Zeus’ Place from transports and other shelters. All told, Zeus’ Place took in more than 250 animals from the Baton Rouge area, many of them needing medical care.
“Now, our mission is to get these animals healthy and placed into foster homes until their families can take them back,” Michelle says. “For the animals that are unclaimed, we’re looking to find them forever homes.” So far, Zeus’ Place has received donations of food, money, medical supplies, and more from across New Orleans.
We’re proud to honor Michelle as our Good Neighbor Award winner in New Orleans. As Kellie, the neighbor who nominated her says, “She puts herself second and everything else is first priority. Animals were suffering, and she went into high gear to help without a second thought.”
From all of us at Nextdoor, congratulations Michelle, and thank you for all that you do to help animals across Louisiana!
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