Was flooded out by Hurricane Katrina
Odette Grosz, 95, a longtime powerful voice behind the scenes on animal issues in New Orleans, died on September 21, 2015 in Alexandria, Virginia.
Grosz bequeathed eight file drawers of information focused on animal use by New Orleans-area biomedical research institutions to ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton in 1992, and from mid-1988 until Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 was Clifton’s eyes and ears in the New Orleans region, sending weekly packets of clippings, correspondence, and notes from telephone conversations.
Minny the Moocher
“Odette had just celebrated her 95th birthday,” longtime friend and former New Orleans neighbor Pinckney Wood told ANIMALS 24-7. “Her beloved dog Minny the Moocher passed away about a month ago. I took Minny from other rescuers, and suggested to Odette that she might take Minny. Since I had Minny with me at the time, Odette found it impossible to refuse. That was many, many years ago, and Minny must have been way up in age. Odette was deeply bonded with Minny. Odette kept saying that she was ready to go; but she was excited about her plan to move to a new place in Maryland in about a month, where she would be closer to dear friends. My wife, Gayle, spoke on the telephone with Odette just about every Sunday.”
Except for the last ten years of her life and a stint doing military work in Washington D.C. during World War II, Grosz lived in New Orleans, mostly in the French Quarter during her younger years, later near Lake Pontchartrain.
Possibly muddled public records indicate that Grosz was born in the New Orleans 13th Ward in 1920, six years after brother Victor, four years before brother Louis. Her mother, also named Odette Grosz, was born in New Orleans in 1900. Her father is listed as Victor O. Grosz, born in 1842, but longtime friend, retired University of New Orleans research professor, and New Orleans tour guide W. Kenneth Holditch disputes the accuracy of the paperwork.
“Odette’s father cannot have been born in 1842. He was still alive in the 1960s,” Holditch told ANIMALS 24-7. “I believe he lived to be 100. I remember his funeral, I think in the early 1970s. Odette’s brother Victor died I think in the 1970s, though I am not sure. I did not know about Louis; he must have died young.”
Married into Reising family
Grosz married three times. Her first husband, Holditch recalled, was “Andy Reising, who owned Sunrise Bread, one of the best of all the French bread bakeries in New Orleans. He was a nephew of the wife of the founder of Kolb’s restaurant,” a New Orleans landmark, a share of which the couple inherited but sold.
“Odette and Andy lived on Royal Street and later on St. Ann Street, in the French Quarter,” Holditch continued.
Agreed Wood, “At one time she lived in an iron grill-work galleried apartment on Royal Street. At that time, the Mardi Gras parades passed right beneath her balcony.”
Eventually divorced, Odette Grosz had two brief subsequent marriages, then focused on her interests in the arts, literature, community affairs, and animal advocacy.
“Odette enjoyed writing autobiographical stories,” Wood said. “When her collection of stories were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, she lost the will to write them again.
“She and I created a literary tour of New Orleans in 1974,” Holditch recounted. “She and I led the tour the first time it was given to participants in the National Council of Teachers of English conference in New Orleans. I turned the tour into a business and led the French Quarter part of it, a walking tour, for thirty years, serving thousands of people. Now that my walking is restricted, I have guides who work for me and lead the tours.”
Through her other pursuits Grosz developed connections to inside information about animal research from a variety of institutions, shared discreetly with carefully selected contacts with animal advocacy groups. She avoided jeopardizing her sources. She was particularly concerned about studies that subjected animals to alcohol, addictive drugs, and intoxicants, especially after some of her most reliable sources became skeptical that anything useful was coming from the work.
Grosz was also active on other issues, writing in October 1994, “I have just watched the TV news showing the shooting and killing of that magnificent African elephant (Tyke) who killed a trainer at the Circus International show in Honolulu. Elephants are often abused during training, and it is a wonder that more of them don’t rebel.”
In 1999 Grosz, Wood, and a handful of other New Orleans activists spoke out against deployments of sheriff’s deputies to shoot nutria along the city levees, on the pretext that the nutria were a threat to the integrity of the levees. Shooting nutria was less expensive than repairing levees that had become eroded and dilapidated, and were eventually breached anyhow by Hurricane Katrina.
Among Grosz’ last campaigns was helping to win passage of a June 2002 ordinance establishing stricter minimum standards of care for pets and other animals in New Orleans Parish.
Prohibited for the first time was the use of tethering as a primary means of confining an animal. Had this clause been enforced, hundreds of tethered dogs would not have drowned in their yards during the Hurricane Katrina flooding.
The New Orleans ordinance also required that domestic animals be protected from freezing weather and set standards for transporting animals in vehicles such as pickup trucks.
Ivan & Katrina
Warned to leave her home ahead of Hurricane Ivan, Grosz in September 1994 loaded her animals into her car and drove to Tyler, Texas. There she learned from a motel TV that the hurricane Ivan had turned and hit 300 miles from the home she had been warned to leave.
Returning to New Orleans, Grosz was less fortunate a year later. Her entire neighborhood was inundated, along with much of the rest of the city.
“I don’t know that I will ever go back, not even to see my house,” Grosz e-mailed on September 6, 2005.
Unable to leave quickly with their animals, Gayle and Pinckney Wood “made it out after the water rose, with four dogs and nine cats, more than just our pets,” Wood reported three weeks later from temporary accommodations in Lafayette. “We stayed in the neighborhood doing search and rescue after we rescued ourselves.”
Relocating to Alexandria, Virginia, Grosz considered becoming involved with some of the Washington D.C.-area animal rights organizations, but thought twice.
“When the younger crowd moves in they think they know it all,” Grosz wrote, “never realizing that others before them have been active for years, sometimes before they were born.”
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