New Orleans pet evacuation crisis brings hope of rescue mandate

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2005:

Chris-topher Shays (R-Connecticut) and Tom Lantos (D-California),
co-chairing the Congressional Friends of Animals caucus, on
September 22, 2005 introduced legislation that would require the
Federal Emergency Management Agency to withhold grant funding from
communities that fail to develop pet evacuation and transport
U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut) indicated that
there will also be Senate attention to animal rescue in disasters.
“It is heartbreaking to hear of families forced to leave pets
behind as they followed instructions to evacuate or were being
rescued,” Lieberman said. “As the ranking member of the Committee on
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, I have joined the chair,
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), in calling for an investigation of
this immense failure in the government’s response to the Hurricane
Katrina tragedy.”
Senator John Ensign (R-Nevada) said he had lobbied the White
House to “name someone to take charge of dealing with animals left
behind by people fleeing the storms, as well as countless strays,”
wrote Benjamin Grove of the Las Vegas Sun.

The Federal Emergency Management Authority and the U.S. Coast
Guard reportedly told commanders of crews helping with the New
Orleans evacuation that they could either rescue animals or pass them
Animals were often allowed aboard National Guard aircraft,
including six dogs who arrived on September 8 at Otis Air National
Guard Base near Bourne, Massachusetts.
“People tend to look at this and say, ‘Why are they getting
dogs [while] all these people need help?'” Massachusetts Department
of Agricultural Resources director of bio-security and regulatory
services Brad Mitchell told Adrienne P. Samuels and Megan Tench of
the Boston Globe. “A lot of these people have lost everything.
People who have pets know they’re a lot of comfort.”
Many evacuees tried to take animals.
“Pets were as much a part of the exodus from Louisiana as
people,” observed Salatheia Bryant of the Houston Chronicle, “with
owners walking dogs along freeway medians leading out of New Orleans,
and crates as common as child safety seats in cars.”
After Hurricane Rita compounded the disaster by devastating
Port Arthur, reported Associated Press, “Boats piloted by deputies,
rescue workers, and private citizens roared up and down the wide
Industrial Canal, ferrying families, dogs, cats, and a woman with
a huge bird cage. On the 38-foot shrimp boat Blood, Sweat & Tears,
nine people, six dogs, two rabbits and a cat rode out the flood.
“Many evacuees told stories of deer stuck on levees and cows
swimming through seawater miles from the Gulf of Mexico.”


Among the most-reported animal stories in the first days
after Katrina was the short, sad saga of Snowball, witnessed by
Associated Press reporter Mary Foster.
“This happened where the crowd was jammed into each other in
an effort to reach the buses,” during the evacuation of the
temporary human shelter at the New Orleans Superdome, Foster told
“It was one of the many horrible things that went on as
desperate people tried to get out and authorities tried to maintain
some sort of order,” Foster continued.
“A policeman took the dog. The little boy, who was already
crying, started screaming the name ‘Snowball,’ and then threw up.
A man picked the boy up and they went on to the bus. I asked the
policeman about the dog. He said they were not allowing anyone to
take pets on the buses. He then led the dog, a medium-sized mutt,
away. I was the only reporter there. I had stayed in the Superdome
since the Sunday before the storm, covering the story.
“I saw many people leave pets behind,” Foster continued.
“Every incident was terrible. I also saw people forced to separate
from family. I was told some animals died. Many were taken by the
National Guard and police. Others escaped. I looked when the SPCA
picked up the animals and could not find Snowball. I did see cats,
dogs, even birds who were left behind.”
Some rescuers accused Foster of not cooperating with their efforts to
find Snowball and reunite the dog with the boy, who was never
“I’m in a crushed city,” Foster said. “I’m trying to cover
the stories here. My cell phone works intermittently. My job is
what I focus on. At some point I hope to do a story on the SPCA and
the heroic work they are doing, but so far, I haven’t had time.”
Foster later contacted ANIMAL PEOPLE for information in
connection with covering the shooting of dogs who were left behind by
evacuees in St. Bernard Parish.
The Superdome evacuation produced many similar stories.
“Julie Anne Pieri, 29, an artist, sobbed as she described
how she had been forced to abandon the cat she fled her home with and
spent four days looking after in the heat and filth of the shelter,”
wrote London Telegraph correspondent Catherine Elsworth.
HSUS vice president for field and disaster services Melissa
Rubin said 43 dogs and 16 cats were rescued from the Superdome after
the human evacuation.
Refused to go
Elsewhere in New Orleans, countless people refused to leave
without their animals, no matter what.
“Diana Womble, who was picked up by boat six days after the
flood waters surrounded her house, would not leave unless she
brought her 15 cats. Her cats were eventually boxed up and loaded
into the boat,” wrote Elsworth of the Telegraph.
Salt Lake Tribune writer Pamela Manson told the stories of
longshoreman Donnie Panarello, 45, of Chalmette, Patricia Arbo,
84, of New Orleans, and Charlie Rinkus, 49, of St. Bernard
Parish, who held out with their pets until all could be evacuated
together by volunteers from Bluffdale Animal Control, Salt Lake
County Animal Services, the Wasatch Humane Society, and the Jordan
River Animal Hospital.
Some such stories ended in tragedy.
“Gary Lee Mullins, 55, a lorry driver who was rescued after
five days clinging to a tree, said he had to kill his beloved
16-year-old Dachshund-Chihuahua,” Elsworth wrote. “He had saved her
from the water, but was not allowed to take her with him. He said:
‘I could not leave her alive in the tree. She was too old to
“Patricia Penny begged her son, Billy, 34, to leave,”
reported Scott Gold of the Los Angeles Times. “But he was afraid to
abandon his five cats and the dog he was watching for friends, so he
and his girlfriend stayed at their home. Penny last heard his voice
in an 8 a.m. phone call. He was blunt: ‘It’s bad.’ An enormous
magnolia tree had fallen over in the front yard, and the storm had
ripped a deck off the house. The water was rising and it was too late
to leave.”
But there were some happy endings.
“For three days after Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf
Coast, Bill Harris was trapped in his Slidell, Louisiana, home
standing on a chair in five feet of water,” wrote Maryann Mott of
National Geographic News. “In one hand Harris held a two-way radio.
In the other he held his beloved cat, Miss Kitty. For hours Harris
called for help. But when rescue workers finally arrived, the
59-year-old man was forced to leave his cat behind. Harris is one of
the lucky ones: A team from Noah’s Wish found his cat.
“Harris, who suffers from chronic kidney failure, was
admitted to a hospital for surgery after being rescued. Noah’s Wish
was able to arrange a reunion at the hospital, 70 miles from Slidell.”
There were some animal heroes.
Graphic designer Erin Marcus, 28, of Athens, Ohio,
described to Athens News senior writer Jim Phillips how she met
Brill, a German shepherd mix, while volunteering at the Lamar-Dixon
rescue center. Brill arrived at Lamar-Dixon with a woman who was
trapped with the dog, then unknown to her, for days on the upper
story of a building. His barking at last attracted rescuers.
Calling the dog “Brilliant,” the woman placed him in Marcus’ care
with the plea that he be given a home. Marcus said she would adopt
him if he went unclaimed.
Mostly, animals comforted distressed people.
“I have been at the Red Cross center here in Knoxville for
two days,” Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley executive director
Vicky Crosetti e-mailed on September 5. “This is where all refugees
must sign up for government help. Even though I have tons
of boarding kennel space, available for an extended period, and
plenty of foster homes, the people who got out with their animals
are not ready to be separated from them right now.
“This will not be practical for long, ” Crosetti said, “as
they search for jobs, homes, etc., but I have seen no need to
point that out. Their reality is harsh enough.
“For right now, I’m just handing out business cards and
telling people to call if they need us,” along with providing pet
supplies, Crosetti told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
University of Tennessee veterinary school personnel offered
vet care as needed.

Housing shortage

Merely getting out of New Orleans and other flooded areas
with a pet was just the start of the ordeal for many pet keepers.
Thousands had only Red Cross shelters to turn to in their first
nights after evacuation, but the Red Cross has a long-standing
national policy of not accepting animals in shelters.
“The Red Cross shelters must be designed to accommodate
everybody,” said spokesman Nick Shapiro. “We can’t add the risk of
bites, fleas, other insects, and hygiene issues to an already
stressful environment.” Shapiro said local Red Cross chapters have
the authority to accept pets if they choose to do so.
New Orleans Times-Picayune staff writer Millie Ball drew attention to
the scarcity of pet-friendly accommodations for evacuees on September
“A young woman, her 7-year-old daughter, and their pet
poodle slept under the altar at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center on
the Nicholls State University campus,” Ball wrote. “The Reverend
Jim Morris, 44, said he gazed down at the family that had been
banned because of the dog from the regular shelter for victims of
Hurricane Katrina. He told a colleague, ‘Our altar has never been
adorned more beautifully than it is with these people seeking the
sanctuary of God.'”
Explained Morris to Ball, “I went over to the school shelter
Tuesday night and saw all these people outside, looking dejected and
clinging to their animals. They wouldn’t let them inside. So I
said, bring them on over to the church.”
The first night, Morris said, “there were 130 people with
all these Rottweilers, poodles, Chihuahuas, cats, birds, even a
pot-bellied pig. It was unbelievable. We had no kennels or
cages–PetSmart and Petco donated them later–and people slept on the
terrazzo floor and on the pews. We had no electricity. It was like
Noah’s Ark.”
Fifty-three people and their pets remained a second day.
Jim Perkins of Prince Frederick, Maryland on September 18
told readers of the Washington Post that he thought the nation could
do better. “I commanded the U.S. joint task force that evacuated
21,000 Navy and Air Force family members from the Philippines to Guam
after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991,” Perkins wrote. “Most
arrived with only the clothes on their backs and their most prized
possessions-including Fido, Snow-ball, Ralph, et al. With meager
resources– one Army vet and a handful of Seabees–we built a
250-space kennel overnight and securely housed every pet brought to
“Ignoring people’s feelings for their animals actually
impedes evacuation efforts,” added Carol A. Tavani, M.D., of the
Phys-icians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
“We say bring your identification, bring your medication,
and bring your pets,” Minnesota Division of Homeland Security and
Emergency Management director Al Battaglia told Rob Hotakainen of the
Minneapolis Star Tribune.
“Our evacuation plans say do not leave your pets behind,”
New Jersey state veterinarian Nancy Halpern told Jeff Shields of the
Philadelphia Inquirer.
Local evac plans
“New York emergency officials are changing their rules so
people can bring their pets to shelters in a disaster,” Adam Lisberg
and Cassandra Uretz of the New York Daily News reported on October 4.
“We’ve always had a strong position that only service animals
would be allowed in shelters,” New York City Office of Emergency
Management chief Joseph Bruno said. “We’re going to have to change
our approach.”
Similar policy changes are underway around the nation.
“Heart-wrenching images of elderly residents who refused to
evacuate New Orleans because they couldn’t take their pets have given
new impetus to Palm Beach County’s search for a pet-friendly
hurricane shelter,” reported Palm Beach Post staff writer Deana Poole.
“Dianne Sauve, director of the county’s animal care and
control division, said during last year’s storms [four hurricanes in
six weeks] that shelter staff were deluged with phone calls from
desperate residents. At capacity, people were told that if they
left their animals, the pets would be euthanized. But many had no
other choice. In the end, about 100 dogs and cats were put down.”
“Facing Hurricane Frances last year with no pet-friendly
shelter,” wrote Kate Santich of the Orlando Sentinel, “Seminole
County hurriedly put together accommodations at Lyman High School.
The Red Cross set up its facility for humans in the cafeteria, while
Mary Beth Lake set up a facility for pets in a hall. The pet keepers
were responsible for feeding and cleaning up after their animals. “
“When we left,” said Lake, “our side was 100% cleaner than
the people side.”
Palm Harbor, Florida, in late August and mid-September
designated two sites to serve as pet-friendly shelters for human
evacuees in future disasters.
Other cities are expected to desig nate pet-friendly shelters soon.
“In the Mid-Atlantic region,” Jeff Shields of the
Philadelphia Inquirer learned, “pet evacuation is a disaster relief
priority for which designated County Animal Response Teams plan and
“Hurricane Floyd in 1999 inspired North Carolina to create
the first State Animal Response Team,” Shields wrote. “That storm
killed 2.3 million chickens, 30,000 hogs and 800 cattle.”
“During Hurricane Ophelia this month,” Shields continued,
“three coastal counties set up shelters to house pets before the
storm hit. North Carolina also has plans to provide emergency
feeding and ventilation for large farms. Meat-processing plants are
even on call to speed up slaughter, rather than have livestock lost
to a storm and have rotting carcasses become a health hazard.”
In the Philadelphia area, “Bucks, Chester and Montgomery
Counties are now forming County Animal Response Teams,” Shields
reported. “Camden, Gloucester and Burlington counties are
developing plans. Philadelphia’s team, which is still organizing a
plan, will also have to account for carriage horses, laboratory
animals and the thousands of animals at the Philadelphia Zoo.”
Experienced animal disaster relief advisors may include
Bradford County Animal Response Team coordinator Joe Buttito and New
Jersey veterinarian Jeffrey Hamer, who assisted in the New Orleans

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