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HURRICANE KATRINA:By Nancy Marano
THE FACES OF ANIMAL RESCUE
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Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast with a fury no one had ever seen before, leaving a wide swath of death and destruction in its wake. The 24-hour news channels detailed the tragic toll on human life and property that this Category 5 storm created for residents of Louisiana and Mississippi. The storm caused terrible damage to the animal population of the Gulf Coast states as well.
People were told by both federal and local rescuers to leave their pets behind when they evacuated. This policy caused incalculable trauma to many people who wanted to take their animals with them and extensive damage and death to the animals left behind. It is difficult to imagine the grief involved in making a choice between getting on a boat yourself and leaving the pet you love, and who depends on you, to fend for itself. Many people thought this would be like all the other evacuations. They would be home in a couple of days so they left the animals in their homes with enough food and water to survive until they returned. Of course, this storm was not like any other.
Many animals were left in death traps they couldn’t escape. Others survived the storm only to run the streets in packs searching for food. The lucky ones were rescued and taken to temporary shelters provided by animal rescue organizations. They were cared for by volunteers like the ones from New Mexico who are profiled in this article. These people heeded the call to go where the needs were greatest to help animals who were down to their last chance.
PETroglyphs salutes and thanks all the people who worked tirelessly to save and care for Katrina animals. In this issue we will give you an inside look at what these people faced and accomplished, as well as a view from the national level on what went wrong this time and how to include animals in future disaster response plans.
HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES RESPONSE
An Interview with Wayne Pacelle, President, HSUS
by Nancy Marano
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) rushed into action. “We were prepared to respond throughout the severely effected regions of Louisiana and Mississippi the day after the hurricane hit but we were barred from going into the region for several days,” said Wayne Pacelle, President of HSUS. “The first responders who dealt with the human rescue effort were overwhelmed by the situation.” The picture he paints is one of frustration with the lack of preparation by state, local and federal governments for handling a disaster of this magnitude. Based at two staging facilities, one in Hattiesburg, MS and the other in Gonzales, LA., HSUS had 8,200 animals pass through the two camps in the course of a month.
“The condition of the animals varied depending on how long it took to rescue them. Many were dehydrated and emaciated. One example was a large mix Mastiff/Husky who was on a roof for 2½ weeks. When he was rescued and brought to the veterinarian, he weighed 40 pounds instead of the 90 pounds he should have weighed. Almost all of the animals were intact. Very few were spayed or neutered,” Pacelle said.
LACK OF FEDERAL ASSISTANCE
Pacelle thinks the rescue effort was heroic and intense, but the needs of the animals and the people exceeded everyone’s capacity. “Essentially we received no assistance from government first responders in the animal rescue effort,” Pacelle said. “The only federal assistance we received was the veterinarians who were provided through FEMA’s Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams (VMAT). We also had some public health veterinarians who did intake, triage and got the animals ready for export,”
VMATs are the only response teams recognized in the National Response Plan to provide trained veterinary medical treatment and address animal and public health issues that result from any type of disaster. Once the President declares a disaster, federal resources become available. At this point a state governor can request VMAT assistance.
“The federal government had no policy on animal disaster except to turn it over to third parties. There was no assistance in terms of a coordinated, policy-driven form of assistance from the federal responders on the ground. Individuals from the Navy, Coast Guard and National Guard did assist with rescue, but they did so as an act of individual conscience rather than because of any planning or policy. They had no instructions to take the animals with the people,” said Pacelle.
HSUS operated under the state incident command structure in Mississippi and Louisiana. The HSUS Disaster Animal Response Team (DART) is composed of trained volunteers who are able to come to the disaster scene and provide needed assistance. Other local and national groups also provided resources and expertise.
The Lamar-Dixon facility, originally an equestrian center, was turned into the largest temporary animal shelter in the country for a month. The number of animals who could be housed there was limited. Only 1,300 dogs could be on the property at one time.
“Our rescuers were getting 200-400 animals a day. Since we were at capacity, we had to export an equivalent number to maintain the overall limit at the same time we were doing rescue,” Pacelle explained. “While we were doing rescue, we were also doing export. This put an additional set of needs and demands on us. Animals had to be readied, have transport, have a place to go to, and have the right paperwork. It was a tremendously complicated operation. Having 2,000 animals in a place not designed for their care was an extraordinary challenge.”
This situation revealed the need for more people with specific skills. People who knew computer systems for tracking the animals and cataloging them, and more equipment, such as boats and trucks, were needed desperately.
PEOPLE AND PETS
The policy of forbidding people to take their pets with them to human rescue shelters is one that caused considerable trauma and made the human rescue less effective. To allow pets to go with their people, cooperative agreements need to be worked out with the human rescue organizations. But this policy also needs to be part of the federal response plan.
“If you are concerned about people and their welfare, you must be concerned about their animals. It delivers an additional emotional trauma to disaster victims if they are forced to leave their pets behind. Many people realized that the most loyal presence in their life was their animals. They weren’t going to exhibit disloyalty to their pet in their most dangerous moment so they didn’t leave the area. The effectiveness of the human rescue was undermined by the inattention to animals,” Pacelle said.
Texas and Florida did take animals into consideration during Hurricanes Rita and Wilma. These states learned from the mistakes of Hurricane Katrina and allowed people to take their pets with them to the benefit of all.
Currently, a bill called the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS Act) is working its way through Congress. This bill says that if state and local governments get FEMA money, they must consider pets in the disaster planning.
“This is an important first step. But it does not stipulate that pets must be incorporated into disaster plans. It excludes the federal government and its responsibility. The bill has holes in it, but laws are built incrementally,” Pacelle said.
According to Pacelle, the federal government has a tremendously important role to play and should actively assist in the rescue and sheltering of animal victims.
“The burden cannot fall entirely on the nonprofit sector. It is too much responsibility for groups that don’t have sufficient capacity. It’s too much pressure on the donors and too much pressure on the staff,” Pacelle emphasized.
The key to successful evacuations is preparedness both on the personal level for your own pets and preparedness at all governmental levels for dealing with animals.
The Lamar-Dixon facility is closed, HSUS has left and the care of the animals has reverted to the Louisiana SPCA, other local agencies and the shelters in other states that have accepted Hurricane Katrina animals. Those people still looking for their animals need to check at www.petfinder.com and www.petharbor.com. HSUS is still providing backup assistance to the LA/SPCA and is providing continuing information on their website www.hsus.org.
Santa Fe Response
by Regina Klapper
For Santa Feans who traveled to Louisiana to help with post-Katrina animal rescue, the experience was difficult, exhausting, at times heartbreakingand extremely rewarding.
Volunteers were stationed at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzalez, La., in between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Several buildings in the enormous complex served as the emergency triage center for all of the rescued animals in New Orleans.
“When I walked in, the scene was overwhelming,” says Duane Adams, Director of the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society (SFAS&HS). “I’d call it organized chaos.” Adams said. He spent a week at Lamar-Dixon in mid-September because he’d been asked by the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators to establish procedures for moving animals out of the center and into shelters. But with 1,000 to 1,500 animals and hundreds of volunteers at the site, he soon discovered that such a job was too much for one person to handle. “There was no way any one individual could take over,” he says. “Mostly I was finding out what places could accept the animals, and I acted as a liaison between the animal agencies that were involved in the rescue efforts.”
As if that weren’t enough, Adams also pitched in wherever he was needed. “I drove animals to the airport, I cleaned kennels, unloaded supplies from trucksyou name it, I did it.”
His role wasn’t easy. There were bureaucratic hurdles to overcome, with officials from the Humane Society of the United States, the Society for Animal Welfare Administrators, the ASPCA and the Louisiana SPCA in charge of different aspects of the rescue and care operation. Government agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, were on hand as well. “There were some of the usual ego clashes,” Adams says. “But on the whole, the groups worked well together, considering the circumstances. The camaraderie was great.”
The SFAS&HS Director of Operations, Anthony Guillen, had similar first impressions when he arrived at Lamar-Dixon the last week of September. “When I got there, it seemed very disorganized, and we didn’t really know who was in charge,” he said. “But after a day or two, I realized that was because the operation was too big for one person to be in charge. And I saw that there was a certain order to how things were working.”
In spite of the large number of animals being housed at the expo center, conditions at the center were good, Guillen said. “Volunteers were walking dogs as soon as it became obvious that they needed to go out, and when a dog did go in the cage, it was cleaned up right away,” he says. “All the animals were being cared for in a very loving way.”
Guillen’s task was to oversee the three domestic animal barns, which housed dogs, cats, and an assortment of birds, fish and reptiles. Hundreds of dogs had to be walked, and all the animals had to be fed, groomed, and monitored by vets. “It would have been impossible without the volunteers,” Guillen said. “The amount of work that had to be done was incredible, and they made it happen.”
One of those volunteers was Linda Marple, who traveled to New Orleans under the auspices of Animal Protection of New Mexico. The organization knows Marple through her efforts to get animal dissection banned at Santa Fe High School, where she teaches. “They called me and said, ‘Can you be on a plane at 5 o’clock tomorrow?’ It didn’t occur to me to say no.” (Marple was accompanied by another Santa Fe High teacher, Pam Groves, and a teacher from Gonzales Elementary School, Mark Wade.)
When Marple arrived, she worked for 24 hours straightcleaning cages, walking dogs and caring for other animals (including some chickens and a pig). Then the hard part beganshe was asked to do rescue work. Marple teamed up with two other volunteers and hit the streets of New Orleans.
Many evacuated residents had posted their addresses on petfinder.com in the hope that someone would find their animals, but some of the homes on Marple’s list were empty. And many of the houses were so damaged that they were not safe to enter. “But if they were safe, we checked everywhere,” Marple said. “We crawled through windows, climbed into atticswe had to check every possible place an animal could be.”
Marple experienced several heart-rending incidents during her time in Louisiana. A lab-mix pup that she found on the street died later that day from severe anemia. She came across seven dead puppies in the bathroom of an abandoned house. And a group of men who came to Lamar-Dixon to “volunteer” turned out to be pit bull thieves who managed to steal a few dogs before security escorted them off the premises.
But there were happy stories too. Marple estimates that her team rescued between 20 and 30 animals, including a pit bull puppy whose owner was found dead, and a miniature pinscher who miraculously survived in a completely flooded house. “He was so happy to see us, he practically hurled himself out the window toward us,” she says. Although she doesn’t know if any of the animals have yet been reunited with their owners, “It was so satisfying to rescue pets that never would have made it out otherwise,” she said.
The SFAS&HS housed 41 dogs that were rescued from New Orleans. (Some of them came directly from Lamar-Dixon, while others were first sent to Texas and then to Santa Fe when Hurricane Rita hit.) “I was probably personally responsible for getting four of them here, but the rest were a group effort,” Adams said. Some dogs have been returned to their owners, Adams said, and the SFAS&HS is still trying to find the owners of the other pets.
Although they praised the rescue efforts, Adams, Guillen and Marple were all in agreement that such a massive effort should never have been necessary in the first place. “Probably 200,000 animals died because people weren’t allowed to take them along when they were evacuated,” Marple said. “It was the worst tragedy I’ve ever seen.”
In contrast to Louisiana, people in Texas and Mississippi were allowed to take their pets with them, and the shelters were willing to accept them, Adams says. “The Louisiana disaster plan did not even address animals, and that needs to change.”
Guillen noted that Katrina brought home the need for a more comprehensive plan here in Santa Fe. “We’ve done disaster training at the shelter, but just for evacuating animals from a neighborhood or an area of the city,” he said. “If we had to do the whole city, we wouldn’t be able to handle it. That’s something we have to work ona plan that can be applied on any scale.”
Regina Klapper is a freelance writer living in Santa Fe.
Linda Marple's photos
by Nancy Marano
DEBBIE GURLEY AND MELISSA MONTOYA
Debbie Gurley, a vet tech at the Animal Clinic of Los Alamos, received an email saying vet techs were needed to help the animals who were being rescued. With support from her employer, she and co-worker Melissa Montoya, the kennel manager, set off for Hattiesburg, MS. They spent four days there in a facility run by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
Then they were asked to go to the Lamar-Dixon camp in Gonzales, LA to help there. “Lamar-Dixon had very limited options,” Gurley said. “It was a much larger facility housing 1,300 animals. The general impression was one of total chaos. We were paralyzed the first day by the lack of organization. There was only one tent with no available space so we pitched our tent in a parking lot. But even with the inconveniences, conditions were not as bad as I’d expected.”
The Lamar-Dixon and Hattiesburg camps were set up on fair grounds that each had a large livestock barn where the animals were housed. Each camp devoted an area of the barn for use as the hospital, critical care and pharmacy area.
“Even though things were crazy and sometimes very disorganized, my overall impression was that these animals received more than adequate medical attention and were fed, walked and loved,” Gurley said. “It seemed that everyone had the same agenda, which was to take the best possible care of these animals.”
Most of the volunteers had no professional experience in animal handling. “I was used to taking care of animals and then letting them go because of my job. When the animals were moved to another shelter, I think many of the volunteers had a difficult time letting go of animals they had fed, watered, walked and loved,” Gurley said.
“The animals in both facilities were amazingly resilient. I would guess that at least 80% of the dogs I saw at Lamar-Dixon were pit bulls or pit bull mixes. Very few of them were spayed or neutered, yet I saw no dog fights,” Gurley emphasized.
Gurley and Montoya both thought the national humane groups worked well together for the benefit of the animals. “HSUS did the best they could in a situation that no one anticipated. The magnitude of the help that was needed was incredible and overwhelming. I know that if there is another disaster like this, it will be handled better. It would be nice if information packets were given to volunteers telling them how to handle dogs in these situations, with procedures and protocols for their care,” Gurley said.
Montoya, who has considerable experience handling horses as well as dogs and cats, agreed and added, “The national groups need more experienced volunteers to guide the volunteers with no professional animal handling experience.”
Neither Montoya nor Gurley brought animals back with them because HSUS had very strict policies concerning what animals could be exported and where they could go. Animals were sent only to HSUS-approved shelters and sanctuaries. The goal of the project was to reunite pets with their owners.
Both women agreed that pets and owners should be rescued together. But both thought that facilities like Lamar-Dixon would still be needed. “I believe it’s all right to separate pet and owner after rescue as long as the owner agrees and knows where the pet is. Having the burden of caring for your pet 24 hours a day while you are trying to regain your own life is difficult, so providing temporary care for pets would be helpful,” Montoya said.
The plight of the animals who were shipped to facilities out of state and possibly adopted by new families concerned both Gurley and Montoya.
Montoya said, “These pets have been through more than we can imagine. They were not themselves and were not in the mental or emotional state to be brought into normal family homes at first. They could have been a danger to those not trained to handle animals in trauma situations. This is why they needed to go to pre-approved shelters first.
Gurley agreed and cautioned possible new owners, “I hope these animals are placed with people who understand what trauma these animals have been through. People who take these animals need to be patient and willing to work through this difficult transition time. People have to understand that these animals have survived at least one and maybe two hurricanes, abandonment, hunger and thirst. Then they were captured, taken to a very loud, stressful environment and often shipped across the country to yet another shelter. These animals need understanding, knowledgeable homes.”
KATIE KEATY - ALBUQUERQUE
Sleeping in a hot, steamy tent and giving subcutaneous intravenous fluids to dehydrated animal victims of Hurricane Katrina is not your ordinary 50th birthday celebration. But it suited Katie Keaty, a volunteer with Watermelon Mountain Ranch (WMR), just fine. In fact, there was nowhere else she wanted to be.
Keaty, and three other volunteers from WMR, worked at the St. Francis Pet Sanctuary in Tylertown, MS, about 70 miles north of New Orleans. This facility is run by Best Friends.
In the nine days Keaty was there she witnessed the hurricane’s tragedies in emaciated, chemically burned and furless animals but she also witnessed happy reunions that made her know the difficulties were worthwhile.
The living conditions at the camp were better than she expected. “The heat was unbearable, but we had plenty of food for the humans and animals. Using the portable showers and Port-a-Potties truly was an experience,” said Keaty. “When we went into New Orleans, it was as bad as the media described. There was no water, no electricity, no life, but lots of pets about. It was very quiet, surreal and sad.”
Keaty went down to New Orleans in the WMR truck to help rescue animals. Instead she remained in the truck and prepared the rescued animals for the trip back. “I did intake paperwork on the rescued animals, fed them, watered them, and loved them. They brought in cats, dogs, pet snakes, ducks, chickens, a 250-pound pig and an emu,” she said.
The sanctuary was overwhelmed with the number of animals it was getting so animals were shipped to other shelters all over the United States that had room for them. “We were supposed to bring some of the animals back here, but they were too ill and needed to go with a veterinarian to Ohio for many weeks of treatment,” Keaty said.
When asked about the management of the rescue effort, Keaty said, “There appeared to be a plan in the minds of the leaders, but putting it all together was another deal. Lots of mistakes were happening due to the magnitude of the whole rescue effort and the overwhelming size of the problem. It seemed to get more organized each week we were there, but it takes a lot of management. People were exhausted from working so hard, but a breakdown in communication was apparent.”
Keaty thought an effort this massive needed a lot of planning ahead of time. “The rescue groups all had their hearts in the right place, but there was a lot of miscommunication. Rumors often spread through the camp,” she said.
A military nurse for 22 years, Keaty had no specific animal training. She did have human disaster preparedness training, though, and was a quick learner.
Surprisingly, the worst part of the experience and the best part were the same thing. “The worst part was seeing these animals in such terrible condition. But the best part was seeing these same animals, with their relentless spirit, look in my eyes and offer so much love. They didn’t have enough muscle mass to stand and were too weak to walk, but they could all wag their tails and smile with their souls when they were rescued. Having taken care of humans, I really have to wonder if the will to live is stronger in an animal. I wonder how humans would go a month with the conditions these pets were in,” Keaty said.
After this experience, Keaty feels strongly that each state needs to have a Pet Disaster Team with trained volunteers ready to go on 12 hours’ notice for any disaster. She also believes that people need to be able to take their pets with them to human rescue shelters. She plans to help New Mexico get a team ready. Of course, she’ll be on the list to go if needed.
Keaty remembers one reunion in particular. “A couple saw the WMR truck at a gas station. They told us they’d been to five different shelters across the whole Gulf area looking for their dog. We told them how to get to our shelter. They found their dog at our shelter. It had been shipped out to another state and that shelter was going to fly the dog back to the family. We all cried and knew our prayers were being answered,” she said.
Watermelon Ranch photos
MICHELE ROKKE SANTA FE
Twenty-four hours after receiving a call from PETA that help was needed in St. Bernard’s Parish, Michele Rokke had rented a van, loaded it with rescue supplies and started her 20-hour trip to the Chalmette/Arabi section of New Orleans. When the levees broke, this was one of the hardest hit sections of St. Bernard’s Parish.
“I arrived the morning of September 17th and got to work cleaning cages and caring for animals who had been confined in a makeshift shelter by some locals,” Rokke said. “I arrived about the same time as a group of independent veterinarians from Virginia who were, like PETA, asked by the military to please do something to help the animals in St. Bernard’s Parish.”
PETA’s help had been requested by the 4th Civil Affairs Group of the United States Marine Corps. This group made sure the rescuers at “Camp Lucky,” as the little make-shift shelter was dubbed, had a place to stay on the Bellatrix, a Naval-Merchant Marine ship moored in the Mississippi River.
The conditions encountered by Rokke and the other rescuers were not good. “The heat was unbearable, for the animals and the people. They talked about the smell on the news, but until you go into a house and get your first lungful of toxic mold and rotting everything, you just can’t imagine how bad it is,” she said.
The first shelter Rokke went to was terrible. It was mostly dirt floors inside a leaking tin-roofed portal area. “After several days, we transferred about 200 animals to three out-of-state shelters and found a partially destroyed warehouse to move the makeshift shelter to before evacuating for Hurricane Rita,” Rokke said. “We resumed sheltering after Rita passed through. We were able to move over 300 animals to safety in the two weeks I was there.”
Rokke’s primary role was caring for rescued animals. However she did do some rescues. “I was following the sheriff to an injured dog. We saw a beagle stomach deep in toxic sludge. While we were trying to coax her into a kennel on one side of the van, she ran to the other side and jumped right in, covering everything in goo. She was just delighted to be in a car.” Rokke recounted. “A lot of the cats I got out of homes were dehydrated, covered in sludge and terribly frightened. Entering homes that have been submerged in water is mind-blowing. Nothing makes sense because the water has moved everything. You don’t know where to start looking.”
Rokke’s background in animal shelter work and animal control served her well during the crisis. “I think everyone did the best they could under the circumstances, but I wouldn’t really say the rescue groups had a plan. I think the plan unfolded minute by minute. There was also a lot of miscommunication that caused confusion and, at times, hurt feelings among volunteers. I think that’s understandable in such an intense situation,” she explained. “There are a lot of shades of gray in animal protection and I think individuals in these situations really need to put ego aside and focus on what’s best for the animals. We need to strive for the ideal but settle for doing the best we can in these extreme circumstances.”
According to Rokke, the first priority was getting the animals into safe shelters. Then they needed to be properly identified and documented so that their guardians had every chance of finding them. Now she thinks there needs to be follow-up with national groups to make sure that the donations are strategically used to help the animals from that area and to help the communities affected by Katrina rebuild, staff and maintain humane animal services.
Before future disasters strike Rokke thinks there are some things that need to be done. “A systemic disaster plan needs to be created to ensure that roles are assigned so everyone is used to their best potential and supplies are managed and utilized effectively,” Rokke said.
She believes there needs to be a way of rescuing people and pets together. Many local communities are doing this already with domestic violence shelters because there is a realization that in order to save people you need to save their animals.
“Making sure national human rescue groups have supplies to set up disaster relief kenneling would be easy and cost effective. It just needs to be implemented. There also needs to be a national public service campaign to make sure people know they need to take their animals with them. This would include making sure that animals wear identification. There needs to be a way to stigmatize the idea of people leaving animals behind. It shouldn’t occur to anyone, ever, to abandon animals in disasters. But people also need to be given a way to make it possible to take the animals with them,” Rokke said. “A national plan that both educates and facilitates animal evacuation could be successful.”
Rokke has many memories of her two weeks in New Orleans. “My worst memory is that we all worked so, so hard and barely made a dent in what needed to happen there. The sheer hopelessness of it all got to me. My best memory was of the Bellatrix captain, who really stuck his neck out to help us, and of his crew, who took such good care of us. We couldn’t have rescued a fraction of the 300 animals we saved if it weren’t for them.”
Summing up her final thoughts on her experience, Rokke said, “An amazing wealth of knowledge, compassion and experience came together to help the animals impacted by Katrina and together thousands of animals were protected. Hopefully, we all learned a lot from this one and will be more prepared in the future.”
Michele Rokke's photos
In My Own Words
by Diane Whetsel
On September 5th, Texas EquuSearch was requested to assist in the hurricane relief effort in Louisiana. We were there for eight days. Our search mission was to rescue and give assistance to the people left behind in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Our first assignment was to assist the National Guard under the direction of the local sheriff’s department in Plaquemine Perish, one of the hardest hit areas in the gulf. FEMA’s Veterinary Medical Assistance Team was there but they were not going out in the field to make animal rescues. People were bringing lost and sick animals to them for treatment. Once these more fortunate animals were stable, their pictures were put on the Internet so that evacuees could find their pets. During our searches, we came across many displaced pets. Most were already sick, some were dying and many more had already succumbed to starvation and the toxic water they were forced to drink. All were traumatized. Dogs were beginning to pack for survival. The sheriff directed us to carry guns with us because of reports of the packing dogs becoming aggressive. Thankfully, we didn’t need to defend ourselves and the animals we rescued seemed to be grateful for the food and clean water we provided.
It became obvious early on that our mission was changing: the animals needed us more than the people did. We began carrying dog food and fresh water for the critters while on our searches. Dogs and cats weren’t the only animals in need of help. We rescued rabbits and horses as well. The horses were in need of food, clean water and a dry place to stand. We moved several horses to safety in Baton Rogue. On the third day, the ASPCA arrived and we were able to guide them to some animals still waiting to be evacuated. We had no crates with us so up to this point, all we could do was feed and water most of them. On day four, we were transferred. Our new base was in the northeastern part of New Orleans in a place called Venus. Dogs, cats and birds were trapped in homes. People had evacuated leaving their pets behind, thinking that they would be home in a day or two. Homes were locked and the FEMA teams that were searching in the area for people were not breaching the homes. We went from house to house breaking into and searching the flooded homes. From outside of one house we could hear someone calling out, “I’m thirsty, I’m thirsty.” Once inside, we found three parrots - no food or water and one bird screaming that he was thirsty! Yes, they were rescued.
Some sights were sickening. Dogs stood on anything in their houses that would float; their homes had become prisons to them. By now over a week had gone by since the storm and those still alive were sick or dying. Again we carried food and water for the imprisoned pets. In some cases, their own food was just out of their reach on some shelf. In one northeast neighborhood we were searching in boats. Loading five to six dogs onto our boat and taking them back to dry land became routine. Once ashore, we kept them in a holding area until the animal rescue team arrived. At one house, a mixed breed retriever was standing on a 6 ft wall on the back of his home. He was shockingly emaciated. He was also traumatized, growling and showing his teeth. It took me close to an hour to entice him onto our boat. Once on board, he turned into a very sweet boy. As hungry and thirsty as the rescued dogs were, they were so frightened that it was difficult to catch them. We couldn’t save all of them. Too many were left behind because we just couldn’t catch them.
Boatload after boatload, we hauled mostly dogs to safety. For each animal that we rescued from homes, we wrote their address either on a collar, cage or crate. I only hope that the animals were reunited with their families.
Sadly, many animals died because people could not bring them into shelters. There were people that refused to leave because they couldn’t take their beloved pets with them. One sick, elderly woman we encountered stayed behind because she wouldn’t leave her cats. We had to move on, and she just wasn’t coming out. Before we left, we took her food and water that would last her about a week. I don’t know if she made it or not.
With all of the despair I witnessed, I would do it again to help these helpless and brave fur and feathered beings. It seems obvious that pets need to be evacuated to safety along with their people. People probably lost their lives along with their pets because of this regulation. Changes in shelter policies are desperately needed. If not, the next time a disaster evacuation is necessary, we can expect more loss of life, both human and our best friends.
B. Diane Whetsel is a search and rescue worker with Texas EquuSearch and a dog trainer from Carlsbad NM. She has worked disasters, missing persons and homicide cases in New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana and Aruba with her Border Collies K-9 Sage and K-9 Rip.
Diane Whetsel's photos
Postscript: Life After Rescue
by Ardeth Baxter
I have been among a number of volunteers walking K dogs, as they’ve come to be known, since they arrived at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter in October. Many of the original 41 mixed breeds and pit bulls had kennel cough and ringworm as well as heartworm and various injuries, and were not spayed or neutered. Because they had lost their identities after the hurricane, they were given new names.
The shelter’s Sloan Cunningham has been working hard, with the help of contacts on the Gulf Coast and the Internet, to find their original homes. I was happy to watch one day as three of the six dogs whose persons have been located were loaded into a van for the trip to Texas and beyond. But most K dogs will likely not be claimed, and so they are awaiting a brand new life in New Mexico.
Less than 10% of all the displaced animals on the Gulf Coast were rescued, and these dogs are among that lucky few. Stray dogs and cats remain in the area, sustained by feeding stations set up by rescue groups. Some might argue that New Mexico has enough of its own homeless animals and doesn’t need refugees from another area. But every dog deserves a second chance, no matter where it comes from. The Katrina dogs have been through incredible trauma and survived. We hope that New Mexicans will welcome them into their hearts and, if possible, their homes.
Santa Fe Animal Shelter photos I
Santa Fe Animal Shelter photos II
DISASTER PLAN FOR ANIMALS
Emergencies strike without warning so you need to have a plan made ahead of time to take care of your animals in an emergency or disaster situation.
1. Have a plan. Make sure that everyone in your family knows what to do in an emergency or if you need to evacuate. Knowing the disaster plan for your community is also helpful.
2. Prepare an emergency kit. Have everything ready ahead of time so that you can just pick up the kit, your animals and go.
3. Identification. All of your animals should be wearing up-to-date identification. There should be an emergency phone number on the identification where you can be reached even if you aren’t at home. Put the identification on the collars, leashes, cages, and carriers.
4. Know where to go. As of now most human rescue shelters do not allow animals, except for service animals, so decide where you will leave your animals ahead of time. Try to make arrangements with friends or family outside the emergency area. Talk to your veterinarian and boarding facilities about housing your pets. Make a list of pet-friendly hotels in the area. Keep all this information in your emergency kit.
5. Don’t wait. If there are threatening conditions in your area, keep your animals inside where you can get them quickly. Never leave your animals chained or locked in a building or place they cannot escape.
DO NOT ABANDON YOUR ANIMALS.
6. If you aren’t home when emergency hits, make arrangements with neighbors to get your animals and your disaster kit. Give them a key to your house so they can get your animals, and tell them where they can take your animals.
7. If you don’t evacuate. If you weather a disaster at home, identify the safest place in your house and all stay together. Keep your dogs on leashes and your cats in their carriers while you wait out the disaster.
ANIMAL DISASTER KIT
Keep your kit in a sturdy container or duffel bag that can be carried easily. Make sure your whole family knows how to find the kit. Your animal disaster kit should contain:
1) Extra collars, leashes, harnesses and secure carriers.
2) Two-week supply of medications and medical records. Store the medications and records in a waterproof container. Include your veterinarian’s phone number and authorization for your pet to be treated if necessary.
3) Companion animal first aid book and kit.
4) Current photos and descriptions of your animals.
5) Extra ID tags. Temporary ID’s are good if your information changes during an evacuation.
6) One week supply of your animal’s regular food and water.
7) Food and water bowls, a manual can opener, and a spoon.
8) Litter and small or disposable litter box.
9) Newspapers, paper towels, plastic trash bags and cleaning products.
10) Pet beds and toys.
11) List of safe places to go.
12) Extras of any special items your animal needs.