White knuckles on the wheel, Michelle Ingram’s first and only time driving a school bus was in the pitch dark on a winding bayou road. She was alone, and after 10 days rescuing animals from a devastating flood in Baton Rouge, Michelle was nursing simultaneous bouts of Cat Scratch Fever and Giardia.
“There was no shoulder, so you would just go off into the abyss. I’ve never been so petrified in my life,” says Michelle.
Historic flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 2016. Courtesy FEMA.
The borrowed bus had a disco ball and a daiquiri machine, questionable air brakes and no radio. It carried dozens of dehydrated, starving and injured animals. Many had broken bones from jumping off rooftops after the floodwater receded. They had an hour to go to get to Zeus’ Place, Michelle’s animal rescue operation in New Orleans, Louisiana.
“The only thing I know all the words to is the Beastie Boys album Paul's Boutique and so I sang it to the dogs in the back and every time I hit a bump, bless their hearts, the ones with the broken legs would howl out in pain and I would just keep singing louder and louder.”
Michelle Ingram and the borrowed school-bus-turned-party-bus in 2016.
Resourceful and tenacious, Michelle saved 250 pets during the Baton Rouge floods of 2016. Since opening Zeus’ Place in 2006, she and her team have rescued more than 5,000 animals, bringing them back to health and finding families to adopt them.
“The boarding and grooming funded my pet rescuing habit. That’s the business model that I set up. I could only handle as many rescues as Zeus’ Place could support after paying all our bills and salaries.”
Michelle Ingram with rescue puppies in front of Zeus' Rescues.
Michelle, originally from Cut Off, Louisiana, left a lucrative career in data security to follow her passion for helping animals. She had never taken a business class and describes the early days as a grass roots effort. Zeus’ has seen nothing but growth from day one. Every time she opens a new location – there are 3 now – it fills to capacity.
“This is what I’m supposed to be doing. This is what I’m good at.”
That Dog Slick
The calls started coming in about a white dog with matted hair, a collar embedded into the skin on his neck. “I think it’s been hit by a car. We can’t catch it. Can you help?”
“I would put signs up for months: if you see this dog, call this number I will come out. I set multiple traps. I don’t know how much Popeyes fried chicken I bought for this dog because that usually works for me and it never worked.”
Wanted poster picture of feral New Orleans dog Slick in 2018.
Michelle caught him once with a net cannon, but he broke free. She named him Slick. After 4 months of focused effort, Michelle finally cornered him under a raised house and used a control poll to get him in the crate.
Rescue dog Slick before surgery to remove a leather collar embedded into his neck, probably put on him as a puppy.
“It was in horrific shape. And very bitey, Very scared. We got him fixed up. Treated his heartworms. He looked like Frankenstein for a while.”
Slick after surgery to remove an embedded collar.
The physical and emotional transformation was dramatic. It didn’t take long for Slick to be adopted. It’s the kind of personal challenge and deep reward Michelle thrives on. “It’s one of my rescues I’m most proud of, I think.”
Zeus' Rescues finds adoptive families for about 700 animals every year.
Air Cargo: Rescues from Puerto Rico
One of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history, Hurricane Maria killed nearly 3,000 people in Puerto Rico in 2017. The damage was stunning. The need was overwhelming. Michelle started looking for an airplane.
Aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017. Courtesy Quartz.
“I searched for a grant, and found one offered by a company out in Maine.”
Michelle got the grant, commissioned a small airplane out of Miami, and filled it full of donated generators, water, food and clothes. She didn’t fly the plane herself, but you can almost picture her doing it, possibly wearing a red cape. She hired a pilot.
“They emptied the human supplies off and they filled it up with animals and flew it back to Miami and Om (Michelle’s husband) and Chad (a friend) drove to Miami in a rented U-Haul van and picked up my animals and brought them to me.”
Animals air-lifted to safety by Zeus' Rescues after deadly Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017.
In two trips to Puerto Rico, they rescued 36 animals. All treated and nurtured at Zeus’ Place, all adopted, and all in a day’s work for Michelle Ingram and her dedicated team.
For information about volunteering, fostering or adopting an animal, visit Zeus' Rescues at zeusrescues.org