Staying for Missy
A stubborn New Orleans couple refuses to leave their flooded home without their pregnant dog.

BY JESSE WRIGHT
PHOTOGRAPHY BY BARBARA GRIFFIN


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Isiah and Suzette King play with their dog
Isiah and Suzette King play with their dog, Missy, in the backyard of their new home in Frostburg, Md.
escuers tried to get Isiah and Suzette King to leave their 7th Ward home after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans.

“Each day they’d come and they’d say, ‘You ready to leave?’ and I’d say, ‘Can I take my dog?’ and they’d say, ‘No dogs.’(and I’d say), ‘okay bye, go ahead.’ This happened at least three times a day,” Suzette said.

The Kings simply wouldn’t leave without Missy, their large brown pregnant dog.

One of their neighbors tried to take his dog to the higher grounds of Elysian Fields, but by the time he got back to his house, his dog was waiting for him on the front porch, Isiah said.

That’s how connected pets are to their owners. And that’s how connected the Kings were to Missy. Not everyone understands that bond.

“My sister said to me, ‘A dog? A dog?’ But see, but they don’t know the dog saved our lives. We might not be here today if it wouldn’t have been for her,” Isiah said.

Missy sensed the danger

One night in 2001, someone set fire to a warehouse next door to the King’s house. Missy came to the rescue.

“We had a situation where some people tried to burn us out,” he said of a property dispute in the area. “She came and warned us, came and got us out of the house. We lived close to the river and it was foggy, so we just thought it was fog.

“She just kept barking and barking, so finally I got up and walked to the back and saw that it was on fire,” he said.

“She didn’t just keep barking, she was grabbing him, she got him,” Suzette added. “She was angry with you because you wouldn’t listen to her.”

The Kings never forgot Missy’s warning.

“So I owed it to her, I wasn’t going to leave her behind,” Isiah said.

Fighting back water and rats

After the city flooded the Kings barricaded themselves into their house using old metal doors to keep out rats and other animals. They also had to contend with an explosion of ants trying to flee the rising water that, at its highest, flowed over their living room sofa.
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Like some of their neighbors, the Kings survived by using the food they had in their refrigerator and freezer. Even after the gas and water in the neighborhood were shut off, Suzette used a propane burner and a pot to fix a meal out of some rapidly thawing frozen shrimp.

“We had margarine in the refrigerator and my son had brought us a lot of beer, so the shrimp with the margarine and some other seasonings I had, I boiled the shrimp in the beer.” Junior, her son, told her it was so good that he was going to sell the recipe and make a fortune.

Officials tried to make it as hard as possible for the hurricane survivors to stay in their homes by leaving food, water and ice on interstate overpasses instead of bringing them to people’s houses.

During the first few days after the storm, Junior and other young men in the neighborhood used a boat to ferry food and water from distribution sights to people who could not fend for themselves. Junior also used a bus to move the elderly and the sick to the Superdome until officials threatened to arrest him, the Kings said.

On the fourth night after the storm Suzette heard Junior talking in his sleep.

“He started raising his feet up and he was crying. He said, ‘I can’t do no more, I can’t do no more, I can’t do no more.’ … I woke him up and said, ‘It’s okay, baby, it’s okay,’” Suzette said. “He said, ‘Did you see that body. I tied that body up.’ I told him I was sorry he had to see that. He said, ‘I’ve seen too many dead bodies, I can’t do any more.’”

The next day, Junior told his family he was leaving and urged Isiah and Suzette to leave, too.

“My mama’s sick, you’ve got to get her out of here,” Junior told Isiah. Suzette has a heart condition and Junior feared that she wouldn’t last long in the city.

The following morning Junior left, alone. He eventually was taken in by an Arkansas family, got a job, a truck and a place to stay.

Rescuers give in

National Guard rescuers came by the Kings’ home again.

“Are you ready to go now?” they asked.

“What about my dog?” Isiah responded.

This time, Suzette said, they called out: “Okay, bring the damn dog.”

The Kings left with little more than the clothes on their backs, the shoes on their feet and Missy. They were taken to a freeway overpass, checked out by medics, and taken to the Convention Center.

After a few hours a helicopter flew them to the airport where they sat on plastic chairs or lay on army cots.

Missy, close to giving birth and distraught from the helicopter ride, had become surly, growling and snapping at passersby.

“A lady put a sign on her that said ‘I’m pregnant. I’m angry. Don’t touch me,’” Suzette said.

A new journey begins

The next day the Kings boarded an airliner and sat on the runway for an hour with no idea where they were going.

“If the plane goes left then we’re going to Texas,” Isiah told Suzette.

But the plane turned right.

The pilot apologized because he didn’t even know their final destination, Suzette said.

Four times they were told they were headed to Texas. Then it was North Carolina. And finally they were cleared to land in Charleston, West Virginia.

Missy stayed between Isiah’s legs and shook throughout the flight. There were other dogs on the flight, one died en route.

“We landed, and they sent us through a shower to inoculate us or something. Then they fingerprinted you, took your picture and you were off to the races,” Suzette said. “I had no idea where I was going. It was just like being shuffled like cattle.”

Fear of the unknown

As the Kings and others rode through the countryside, they were amazed by the mountains. But some were fearful.

“In the hills there are these crosses,” Suzette said. “You see them every so often.”
Many evacuees thought they were entering Ku Klux Klan territory. Not until later did they discover the sets of three large white crosses were religious displays.

Missy gives birth

Camp Dawson did not allow pets, so Missy had to find a new home while the Kings stayed at the military base.

“At first she was with a vet,” Suzette said.

Then she went to live with a family in Terra Alta.

“Missy was living better than we were, oh yes she was. She was on that ranch and she became friends with a horse,” Suzette said.

And she had puppies, lots of puppies.

“They called and told us that we were going to be parents. At first they said she had five. When we got there, there were seven. She had one while we were there and by the time we left there were nine,” Suzette said.

Stress takes its toll

While living at Camp Dawson, Suzette’s heart condition sent her to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, where she underwent angioplasty.

Then the Kings left Camp Dawson and settled in a peaceful neighborhood in nearby Frostburg, Md, with Missy. All of the puppies found homes.

Hurricane Katrina affected the Kings profoundly. Months later they still find it hard to think about that time.

“She don’t know it, but I have flashbacks, you know. I saw bodies in that water, too, as we were leaving,” Isiah said. “But I try to hold it in. I don’t try to express it because there’s no need two of us showing emotions.”

A carpenter by trade before he retired, Isiah has tried to do some woodworking.

“I started a project out on the back porch and it started reminding me about work, and I just couldn’t finish. I had to leave it alone,” he said. “Every so often I could go and do a little bit, but then I would get those flashbacks and I’d have to leave it alone.”

Kings help out in Mississippi

A few months ago, sponsored by local Frostburg church groups, the Kings took a U-Haul filled with donations and food to Biloxi, Miss. From there, they drove the empty truck to New Orleans to salvage what they could from their house.

They returned with few material things and a greater appreciation for where they live now. They have no intention of moving back to New Orleans, they said.

Their neighborhood there was dangerous. They often heard gun shots at night, especially on weekends.

Suzette said that she is happy that Junior is out of harm’s way. “Once he tried so hard to duck. He heard the gunshots and he was ducking at the sofa, and I said that sofa is not going to stop the AK (47),” she said.

“When we went back to New Orleans and saw some of our old neighbors hanging around the corner, sitting on the steps, I said, ‘do you know that I have not heard one siren since I’ve been gone?’ They said, ‘No sirens?’ I said, ‘No sirens.’”