Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of Louisiana on August 29, 2005 and changed the way we viewed natural disasters and the human/animal bond forever. This article represents the first in a series of articles designed to remember the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the animals and their rescuers on this five year anniversary. According to PBS’ Nature documentary “Katrina’s Animal Rescue” , over 250,000 pets were left behind in Hurricane Katrina; owners had expected to return quickly but because of widespread flooding weeks and months went by before many impacted areas could be safely entered.
The impact of Hurricane Katrina on the animal welfare community and the animal loving public was widespread. Animals left behind, because owners were unable to take beloved pets during evacuations, were transported across the country for safekeeping by rescues and shelters until they could be reunited or in many cases adopted into new loving homes. Laws were changed and now pet friendly shelters, where guardians and pets can remain together, are available throughout the US. The Pet Evacuation Standards Act, passed in October of 2006, made FEMA money contingent on municipalities having plans to accommodate pets and service animals. During and after Katrina, organizations such as United Animals Nations and Humane Society of the United States were flooded with requests for volunteer opportunities to help in future disasters. Pet disaster preparedness plans are now standard in preparation seminars and workshops for disaster planning, especially in areas prone to hurricanes such as Southwest Florida. For more information on planning for disasters and your pets, Petfinder.com has resources through their website. Many states, such as Florida have disaster animal response teams, prepared and trained to work with animals during future emergencies.
The images of pets left behind during Hurricane Katrina, struggling against flood waters, standing alone on rooftops, and being pulled into rowboats by tireless volunteers still haunt the minds of many Americans. For the thousands of volunteers who assisted at temporary shelters throughout the Gulf Coast region, their lives have been profoundly altered by their experiences. For the volunteers who transported, fostered, and sheltered, the animals saved from this disaster, they have made a difference by giving these animals a chance at a new life. Even those who could not actively participate in rescue efforts raised millions of dollars without which temporary shelters and rescue efforts could not have been stocked, supplied, and available.
May such a disaster never happen again but may the changes brought about by Katrina continue to enhance our society and our respect for animals, especially during national disasters. Over the course of the next few weeks, a series of articles will describe animals adopted as a result of Hurricane Katrina rescue efforts, animals still in need of forever homes five years later, and volunteers experiences in rescue, during and after the disaster.