louisiana spca laspca spca hurricane katrina disaster katrina animalrescue stories

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Animal Rescue Facts

 

Who:

      

Louisiana SPCA

Thousands of animal rescuers from around the country

Estimated 104,000 abandoned animals

 

What:

 

Hurricane Katrina - Category 3

When:

 

August 29, 2005

Where:

 

New Orleans and the Gulf Coast

Evacuation:

 

The Louisiana SPCA evacuated all 263 animals from the Japonica Street shelter in the Ninth Ward to safety well in advance of landfall.

It's estimated that roughly 259,400 families owned pets in New Orleans before Katrina. There was no formal evacuation plan for those needing assistance or for those with pets. As many as 104,000 pets were left behind to weather the storm and its aftermath.

Based on a poll conducted by the Fritz Institute, 44% of people did not evacuate for Katrina because they refused to leave their pets behind. 

For those that chose not to evacuate and were rescued by first responders during the aftermath, they were not permitted to take their pets either. 

Rescue:

 

The Louisiana SPCA Japonica Street shelter was destroyed during the flooding that followed Katrina and a shelter had to be created out of thin air for the animal rescue efforts. After communicating with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, a shelter was created at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, Louisiana, 60 miles west of New Orleans near Baton Rouge. The Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, normally an equestrian center, became the largest animal shelter and animal rescue operation in U.S. history. 

The Louisiana SPCA entered New Orleans to begin animal rescue efforts on August 31, two days after Katrina.
 

Within a matter of days, more than 7,000 addresses were on the Louisiana SPCA’s rescue list and thousands of animals were being rescued. Staff, exhausted and suffering from their own personal losses, the Louisiana SPCA called upon partners from across the country for help. More than 60 groups from around the country, and some internationally, answered the plea to assist with animal rescue efforts. 

By October 15, 2005, approximately 8,500 rescued animals came through the Louisiana SPCA’s rescue center at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.

Thousands of animals were transported to other states by more than 40 rescue groups because the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center filled over capacity and no single facility in the state was large enough to house every animal. 

It’s estimated that over 15,500 animals were ultimately rescued.

A lost pet database was created to help reunite rescued pets with owners. Unfortunately, clear documentation identifying where animals were found and transported was sorely lacking, a casualty of the City’s infrastructure being destroyed and communications compromised, the chaos of the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center and some rescue groups operating outside the system. 

Reunions:

 

Of the 15,500 animals rescued, only 15%-20% were ever reunited with their owners. Although it appears a low percentage, it fares better than the national average of 10%; but for the owners searching for their pets percentages hardly matter. 

In the coming years, several lawsuits arose when rescued pets were adopted before their owners were able to locate them. The last filed lawsuit was closed in 2014, nine years after Katrina. 

Casualties:

 

At least 88,700 pets went unaccounted for. No one knows exactly how many animals died during Katrina but most estimates put the number between 50,000-70,000 across the entire Gulf Coast. 

Realizations:

 

Katrina brought to light many issues surrounding animals:

  1. Animals have to be included in evacuation plans on a local, state and national level. This not only saves animal lives, but humans lives as well. 
  2. Reuniting pets with their owners is critical in times of disaster. Without being able to reunite pets and owners, shelters quickly fill up and chaos ensues.
  3. Katrina brought the pet overpopulation problem in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to national attention.
  4. Katrina revealed that the human-animal bond is an essential part of our lives - and during time of disaster, it's as critical as food, water and shelter.  

 

Successes: 

 

In 2006, the Louisiana SPCA successfully lobbied for the passage of House Resolution 3858, better known as the “Pet Evacuation Bill.” Now, governments on all levels are required to include companion animals in their evacuation plans. The bill "requires the director of FEMA to ensure that state and local emergency preparedness operational plans address the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals prior to, during, and following a major disaster or emergency."

Since Katrina, New Orleans has only issued a mandatory evacuation for one storm, Hurricane Gustav, a Category 5. Evacuation efforts eerily took place on the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in August 2008. In all, the Louisiana SPCA successfully evacuated nearly 1,000 shelter animals from surrounding parishes and 550 owned animals through New Orleans’ City Assisted Evacuation Plan. In addition, the Louisiana SPCA evacuated animals for first responders who had no way to evacuate their animals while on duty. This was the first mandatory evacuation of an American city and its pets.  

In an effort to reduce the pet overpopulation problem in New Orleans, the Louisiana SPCA has done the following since Katrina: 

  • Found homes for more than 16,000 homeless animals through adoption, transport, breed rescue and foster

  • Spayed/Neutered more than 50,000 animals who would otherwise contribute to overpopulation; preventing an estimated 275,000 unwanted homeless animals

  • Reunited nearly 5,000 lost pets with their owners and created owner-retention programs to reduce surrenders 

  • Microchipped more than 21,000 animals since 2010 to proactively prevent owned animals from entering area shelters. Microchip data was lost from 2005-2009. 

  • Spayed/neutered more than 17,700 feral cats through an aggressive Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program; preventing an estimated 116,000 unwanted homeless kittens

 

To improve the human-animal bond, the Louisiana SPCA ramped up youth education as a way to educate pet owners of the future. Since Katrina, nearly 21,000 young individuals in New Orleans have participated in one of eight Louisiana SPCA programs specifically designed for youth education. 

Since Katrina, the Louisiana SPCA has rebuilt from the ground up and grown tremendously. However, there is still more work to be done!  

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