March 26- April 17, 2006
The LA/SPCA was re-building like its fellow New Orleanians one day at a time. There had been little cause for celebration for most people post-Katrina. Sadness still hung in the air. For those whose lives were touched by animal tragedy the ability to carry on was all the more challenging. But there was a need to start the healing process. The LA/SPCA did just that when it held its annual dog walk event Dog Day Afternoon on March 26, with the theme Pawsitively New Orleans – Come, Stay, Heal. On that Sunday afternoon a community of animal lovers came together to celebrate the human-animal bond. For the first time since Katrina there was a celebration and hundreds of animals and their human community re-connected with one another. A few weeks later, on April 23, we would hold our annual Bark in the Park at the local baseball stadium Zephyr Field. It’s an opportunity for dog lovers to enjoy the great American pastime with their canine companions.
While the LA/SPCA continued to re-build its programs, the former warehouse was still being turned into an animal shelter. The roof work was finally completed five months after moving in. Socialization yards where staff and volunteers could interact with dogs off-leash were built on the property. Rooms were being erected inside the warehouse that would serve as enclosed, climate controlled cat rooms, a public office for client care, a meeting/all purpose room and the clinic for the shelter animals. During this period we also began accepting applications for our Care Cadet Program, a highly popular educational program for adolescents which is designed to develop responsible pet owners and humane educators. The program classes kicked-off June 11, 2006.
April 18-July 21, 2006
Months later, the LA/SPCA’s push for a state law regarding animals in disaster was introduced in the State Legislature. On April 18, 2006 Senate Bill 607 dubbed the “pet evacuation bill”, was introduced by Senator Clo Fontenot. The bill reflected a desire to prevent the animal tragedies of 2005 from ever happening again. The bill’s success would mean that governments on all levels – local, state and national – recognized that including animals in disaster planning was not an option but a necessity. A recent poll conducted by the Fritz Institute had revealed that 44% of people did not evacuate for Katrina because they did not want to leave their pets. Only 18% did not evacuate because of relatives. It was a recognition that saving animals meant saving people. People who had stayed behind because they would not or could not evacuate their pets shared their heart wrenching stories that drove the argument home. At the close of the legislative session in June 2006, Senate Bill 607 passed. Days later Governor Kathleen Blanco signed the “pet evacuation bill” into law. Although we had little time for anything but disaster issues, we testified in favor of anti-cockfighting legislation, which moved through the legislative process further than it ever had in previous years. It passed out of the traditionally pro-cockfighting Senate Agricultural Committee before finally being killed in the House Agricultural Committee. We also testified in favor of banning the ownership of big cats (exotics).
Amidst the massive work required to help pass the bill before the legislative session ended in June, another deadline was fast approaching. June 1 would mark the beginning of the next hurricane season. The LA/SPCA was working furiously to revise its internal evacuation plan, our trigger point hurricane preparedness document to address our changed landscape post-Katrina. Even though our staffing was limited, the LA/SPCA was also being called upon by federal, state and local agencies to assist in implementing their plans to include the animal component.
No one wanted to see a repeat of last year, but the awareness that a solid plan takes months and months of planning and preparedness hung in the air. “There are many gaps still to be filled” became (and continues to be) a daily mantra. There was also the urgency to make sure that residents developed their personal evacuation plans for their pets. Brochures in English, Spanish and Vietnamese were designed and printed to serve as a guide for pet owners. The urgency to develop not only a pre- but also a post-disaster response plan so the chaos of the Lamar Dixon days would never be repeated again loomed for all involved.