August 30-August 31, 2005
The LA/SPCA was faced with an unimaginable and overwhelming task. Its shelter was destroyed. A shoestring staff had traveled to Houston and the remaining staff had evacuated to other cities and states. There was an urgent and pressing need. New Orleans has always suffered with a high stray population and there were certainly thousands of strays that were victim to the storm. For those that had survived they would need immediate rescue and shelter. The LA/SPCA also realized that there were residents who did not or could not evacuate and their animals would need rescue and shelter as well. No one however could imagine just how high those numbers would be.
Maloney worked the phones with great urgency. A shelter had to be created. A staff had to be housed. Supplies were needed. The Houston SPCA provided the LA/SPCA with cages and basic sheltering supplies. After communicating with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDA&F), a shelter was created in Gonzales, Louisiana – 60 miles west of New Orleans near Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The Lamar Dixon Exposition Center, normally an equestrian center, became what would ultimately become the largest animal shelter and animal rescue operation in U.S. history.
August 31-October 15, 2005
The LA/SPCA entered the New Orleans area for the first time since Katrina had made landfall on August 31. They entered a scene that would crystallize the animal tragedy that unfolded in the aftermath of Katrina. Busloads of residents who had not evacuated were stranded on a major U.S. interstate in Metairie, an outlying area of New Orleans. With them were their pets that were not allowed on the buses transporting the humans out of the danger zone. These were the first animals that arrived at Lamar Dixon. LA/SPCA staff also knew they had to get into the city to begin rescuing the animals that were stranded. Their first stop in New Orleans was the Superdome. But their efforts on that first day were cut short by another scene that would symbolize Katrina’s tragedy. Gunshots, violence and fires were erupting at Ground Zero. Officials ordered the LA/SPCA to leave. New Orleans had become a combat zone.
When they were able to return, what followed in the coming weeks was an unprecedented post-disaster response to save animals. Help arrived from across the country. Nothing had ever before galvanized a cavalry of animal lovers and animal welfare agencies on such a scale. Volunteers poured in as did donations both monetary and in-kind. Animal welfare groups of all philosophies and sizes converged at Lamar Dixon to assist the LA/SPCA. Rescue groups mobilized at 5:30 a.m. everyday and returned after dark filling the makeshift shelter with traumatized animals – dogs, cats, horses, pigs, birds, snakes – all that you can imagine. Thousands of phone calls also poured in from residents now scattered all across the country sending out an S.O.S. to have their animals rescued. We already had 7000 homes to enter on our rescue list. It was utter chaos.
The LA/SPCA staff witnessed scenes that were heartbreaking, haunting and unforgettable. They found animals so starved they were walking skeletons. They found traumatized animals trapped inside homes or worse. They found the animals that did not survive; those that drowned tied to fences or trapped in crates; those that were only shadowy remains; those that suffered horrific and painfully slow deaths.
All told, approximately 8,500 rescued animals entered the Lamar Dixon facility. But there were several other thousands rescued by other groups working outside the official rescue efforts. It’s estimated that over 15,000 animals were ultimately rescued. The number of animals that died during Katrina is unknown but it’s estimated to be in the thousands.