Who did what in the Hurricane Katrina/Rita crisis?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2005:
GONZALES, La.; TYLERTOWN, Miss.; HOUSTON–With Internet
“bloggers” and mass media providing almost minute-to-minute updates
on the Hurricane Katrina and Rita animal evacuations through the peak
of the crisis, ANIMAL PEOPLE soon realized that our major roles
would be rumor control (see page 3) and helping donors effectively
direct their contributions.
From August 27, 2005 to our October 2005 edition press date,
ANIMAL PEOPLE documented the helping efforts of more than 190 humane
organizations involved in the Katrina/Rita rescues and evacuations,
acknowledged in the following pages, beginning with brief profiles
of some of those that were most prominent.
The first mention of each organization will be in boldface,
to allow readers to quickly identify their roles. Many organizations
did much more than page space and time available have allowed us to
describe, and would be worthy of profiles, opportunity permitting.
We hope to have hit the highlights, with apologies in advance to
those who may feel overlooked or neglected.
ANIMAL PEOPLE received e-mails, calls, and news clippings
mentioning the plans of hundreds of other organizations, whose
accomplishments are not yet verified–partly because many became too
busy, often in places without working telephones, to maintain
Alvin Bean of Southeast Llama Rescue, in Marshall, North
Carolina, was a case in point. Among the first rescuers to e-mail
to ANIMAL PEOPLE asking how to volunteer, she was next heard from on
“I worked in the control center for the Humane Society of the
U.S. search-and-rescue and food-and-water teams, doing data base
management and dispatch. Then I went back into New Orleans,” Bean
wrote. “We are still just getting to some homes where animals were
left, and amazingly we are finding animals still alive. Lots of
dead, too, but where folks left their pets with lots of food and
water, we are finding about 10-20 survivors per day.
“We are now working outside of official HSUS auspices,” Bean
added. “HSUS stopped officially sending out rescue teams about a
week ago, but unofficially we are still in business. HSUS is
allowing us cat and dog food, a few other supplies, and the use of
computers and such in the command center, but this will all end on
the 15th,” when the HSUS lease on the Lamar-Dixon Exhibition Center
was to expire.
The Winn-Dixie Marketplace Temporary Staging Area at the edge
of New Orleans became increasingly important during the late phases
of the rescue operation.
In the early days post-Katrina, Winn-Dixie was an isolated
forward outpost, set up in a parking lot by Mark and Shannon Martin
of Disaster Response Animal Rescue, from Athens, Georgia. The
Humane Society of Louisiana, itself stretched thin, sent volunteers
and supplies from Tylertown.
As more rescuers entered the city, and residents began
returning, Winn-Dixie became the busiest rescue center, closest to
where surviving animals were still being found.
“Imagine a MASH unit on the front lines of a war zone. We
triage, minor decontamination, stabilization, and transport,”
Shannon Martin told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “My husband started this location
out of sheer desperation. He had been rescuing and transporting into
Jefferson Feed when they shut down due to disorganization and bad
planning. Many animals died because of that screw up.
“We estimate that approximately 3,000-4,000 animals have come through
Winn- Dixie,” Shannon Martin estimated on October 5. “Only two have
been euthanized. One almost killed a volunteer and the other was so
close to death that it was much more humane than prolonging his
suffering. The rest were sent to Tylertown or other nonprofit
no-kill facilities. We never held ourselves out as a temporary
shelter,” Shannon Martin stipulated. “Our site was always and still
is a temp holding facility in the disaster zone that stabilizes
animals in preparation for transport to outlying shelters.”
“The local shelters only have space for criticals, so there
are hundreds of abandoned animals on the streets,” Bean reported.
“I hope that some of us will be able to set something up to continue
to help these animals after the 15th. Most people plan to go home
and the Louisiana SPCA can’t yet deal with all the street animals,”
Bean opined. “I don’t know what will happen to them.
Louisiana & Houston SPCAs
Resuming responsibility for providing animal control service
to New Orleans, the Louisiana SPCA expected to work from a converted
warehouse in Algiers until it can build a new headquarters.
“We are beginning our transition back to New Orleans and
expect to be up and running by October 7,” executive director Laura
Maloney announced on September 30.
As Katrina approached, the Louisiana SPCA on August 27
vacated the shelter it had long occupied on Japonica Street in New
Orleans, much as it often had ahead of other hurricanes, unaware
that this would be the last time.
Twenty-five dogs held in pending court cases went to Baton
Rouge Animal Control, while 263 other animals were trucked to the
Houston SPCA, which had opened up space, according to plan, by
doubling up occupancy of runs where practicable and transferring
about 200 animals to the SPCA of Texas in Dallas.
The SPCA of Texas in turn opened cage space by putting
approximately 75 animals into emergency fostering, cutting adoption
fees by 50% to 75%, and escalating adoption promotion.
After the New Orleans levies broke, and the evacuation of
the entire city became necessary, the Houston SPCA made still more
space available by obtaining donated use of a nearby automobile
showroom on an as-needed basis. The showroom served as a temporary
shelter for several days at a stretch whenever new loads of animals
arrived from New Orleans, and when large numbers of small dogs,
cats, ferrets, birds, and even snakes were found among the human
evacuees at the Astrodome and the George Browne Center.
The human evacuation centers in Houston sent the most animals
to the Houston SPCA: 400 just on the peak day of the New Orleans
More than two weeks after the New Orleans evacuation, about
two-thirds of the animals at the Houston SPCA were still of New
Orleans origin, and were on longterm hold, awaiting reclaim by
their people. About 1,000 animal victims of Hurricane Katrina had
passed through, of whom 200 were reunited with their people and
about 200 more were identified.
Most of the rest were sent to animal shelters in San Diego
and Cincinnati, for longterm fostering and eventual adoption if not
identified and reclaimed.
There were no pit bull terriers or Rottweilers from New
Orleans at the Houston SPCA when ANIMAL PEOPLE visited, in contrast
to the predominance of pit bulls and Rottweilers at the rescue
centers closer to the disaster area–but the Houston SPCA had
received multitudes of Chihuahuas, other small dogs, cats, and
other relatively easily smuggled animals such as birds, snakes, and
ferrets, who had been sneaked aboard evacuation buses and
David Dubuc, a Houston SPCA staff member since 1989, and
public relations officer and humane educator Stacy Fox, a 20-year
veteran of humane work with several different agencies, told ANIMAL
PEOPLE that the Houston SPCA was most proud of having accommodated
twice their usual workload on short notice, without having to kill
any animals to make space for the newcomers.
Louisiana SPCA staff who returned to New Orleans began rescuing
animals on September 2, the same day as Best Friends, “but had to
stop evacuation as ordered by the state, due to violence,” Maloney
posted. As the Japonica Street shelter was irreparably damaged, the
Louisiana SPCA rescuers worked at first from rented rooms at the New
Orleans Hyatt hotel.
A $200,000 grant from the ASPCA enabled Maloney to buy a
fully furnished home near Gonzales that was occupied by at least 15
staff members during the recovery operations.
The Humane Society of the U.S., designated the lead agency
for animal rescue by the Federal Emergency Management Authority,
began moving disaster relief personnel and equipment into the New
Orleans area on August 30. About 80 experienced volunteers from
other animal agencies joined HSUS staff at staging points in Florida
and Texas, including Days End Farm Horse Rescue cofounder Allan
Schwartz, of Lisbon, Maryland, who brought along a truckload of
items needed for handling hooved stock.
They soon called for more help.
“We have 125 people and 39 support vehicles in Louisiana,
and more than 100 emergency personnel and 17 support vehicles in
Mississippi,” HSUS National Disaster Animal Response Team incident
commander Laura Bevan posted from Jackson, Mississippi on September
8, while “Calling on all federal, state, and local responding
agencies to help provide animal rescue assistance immediately. Even
though we’ve been able to put hundreds of people in the field,”
Bevan said, “we worry they may not be enough.”
The immediate impact of Katrina was felt as far north as
Jackson, where the Mississippi Animal Rescue League struggled for
days with a full shelter but no electricity or running water.
“They are getting by on tubs and 55-gallon drums that they
were able to fill with water prior to the storm,” e-mailed Brenda
Shoss of Kinship Circle on September 2. “They are also staffing the
State Fair Grounds, where they are caring for 147 animals from
Community Animal Rescue & Adoption and several other small
Jackson groups helped to handle the influx.
Five Animal Rescue League of Boston staffers including chief
operating officer Nick Gilman arrived on September 2 to set up an
emergency rescue shelter at the Jackson fairgrounds. Gilman headed
the Humane Society of the U.S. disaster relief team during the early
1990s and later led American Humane Association disaster relief
Later, inmates from the Dixon Correctional Institute in
Jackson took over care of 160 dogs, five ducks, five geese, 17 hens
and three roosters, James Minton of the Baton Rouge Advocate
reported, as HSUS closed its rescue centers after five weeks in the
While dozens of organizatons ran rescue centers to help the
animal victims, the two largest were those established by HSUS at
the Lamar-Dixon Exhibition Arena in Gonzales, Louisiana, and at the
fairgrounds in Hattiesburg, Missisippi. At peak during the first
three weeks of September, each center handled more than 750 dogs,
300 cats, and 250 animals of other species from hamsters to horses.
Lamar-Dixon was closed to new animal intakes on September 30,
with about 500 animals still awaiting transport to humane societies
farther from New Orleans, where they would be fostered and would
eventually be put up for adoption if unclaimed.
Search-and-rescue teams coordinated by HSUS volunteer Jane
Garrison and a data entry team updating rescue lists were to continue
operating until October 15.
“We are recovering family pets who have survived on the
streets, under houses, and anywhere they could,” said David Meyer
of 1-800-Save-A-Pet. Meyer returned home to Los Angeles in early
October after two weeks in the New Orleans area.
The average volunteer stint was three days.
The Best Friends Animal Society rescue operation, the first
to do water rescue, was headed by national outreach director Paul
Berry, who in 1995 founded the Southern Animal Foundation in New
Orleans. Berry eventually coordinated a team of 13 Best Friends
staff, three veterinarians, three vet techs, and up to 50
volunteers per day.
While the Southern Animal Found-ation evacuated to Dallas,
Berry “arrived in the area on August 30th, the day after Katrina
blew through,” Best Friends cofounder Francis Battista told ANIMAL
PEOPLE. “We had early access to the city through our cooperation
with Jefferson Parish animal control director Bert Smith, and began
relieving his shelter of overflow,” Battista said.
“His Eastbank shelter was dead in the water,” elaborated
Best Friends president Michael Mountain, “and he had been evacuating
his animals to the Franklinton fairgrounds. He had no staff to help
him and could only stack animals in crates. We brought four people
including a vet to hold the fort in Franklinton, and started working
with Bert to get animals out of his Westbank shelter. We’d bring a
truckload every day, and were soon able to bring all of the animals
to St. Francis.”
Best Friends personnel on September 2 picked up more than 100
dogs and cats on their first day of field work, Mountain told Anita
Manning of USA Today.
Eventually Best Friends evacuated more than 1,000 dogs and
cats, an emu, and a pig who had been mauled by dogs to the St.
Francis Animal Sanctuary, near Tylertown, Mississippi, three hours
north of New Orleans, which already had about 500 animals on hand
when the rescue effort started.
By September 3, Best Friends staff and volunteers were at
work expanding the sanctuary to hold more than 1,000 animals, adding
buildings, fencing, generators, and everything else needed to
handle the influx.
As the first organization to recover animals, Best Friends
received national publicity–and more offers of help than the staff
left back at headquarters in Kanab, Utah, could handle.
“We’re getting 5,000 to 7,000 e-mails plus 1,000 phone calls
every day,” spokesperson Aileen Walden said on September 9,
explaining a backlog of unreturned messages.
Best Friends is believed to have the largest volunteer pool
of any U.S. animal charity, but even Best Friends came up
short-handed against the magnitude of the New Orleans disaster. The
Best Friends staff became so depleted that the No More Homeless Pets
conference scheduled for October 21-23 in Boston was cancelled, as
was the American Humane Association conference, which was to have
been held from September 29 to October 1 in Austin.
“It’s really obvious that there are not remotely enough
rescuers out there,” Mountain e-mailed on September 18.
“We got into St. Bernard on September 16, at the request of
parish animal control director Cecile Trog and councilman Mark
Madary, and to the best of our knowledge were the first outside
animal rescue organization in there. We heard it rumored that the
HSUS had a team there, but as we went around, rescuing animals and
doing an assessment, we didn’t see any others–just a few
independent rescuers and residents helping a few animals, along with
military people, unofficially looking after animals as they can.
“When our teams were out in boats in Orleans Parish,”
Mountain continued, “we only saw a couple of other boats: one HSUS
rescue boat, followed by a boat of photographers and videographers.
We also know of one veterinarian doing rescue in St. Bernard, but
again, he’s independent.
“In St. Bernard, there are still thousands upon thousands of
animals locked in homes or wandering the muddy streets. The animals
are on their last legs. It is a terrible sight to behold.”
Meanwhile, “Hurricane Rita threatened to tear the St.
Francis sanctuary apart, but steered away,” Mountain recalled. “We
were all prepared, and had received a special donation of hundreds
of plastic igloos for the dogs to hide in if necessary during the
H.S. of Louisiana
The Humane Society of Louisiana, flooded out of New Orleans,
also found refuge at the St. Francis Animal Sanctuary.
“We barely managed to get every one of our 100 sanctuary
animals to Tyler-town,” Humane Society of Louisiana president Dana
Nesbitt told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “It was an extraordinarily difficult
evacuation. Tylertown was also hit by Katrina,” with trees and power
lines down throughout the vicinity, “but at least the animals didn’t
“We set up adjacent to the St. Francis Animal Sanctuary
without water, phone service, supplies, or electricity,” Nesbitt
continued. “Part of the roof of the building blew off, and the
animals and their caretakers are hot, cramped and miserable.
“We will be unable to return to New Orleans for months,”
Nesbitt anticipated. “Our entire donor base has been wiped out, and
we are without operating funds. I am temporarily homeless, as are
so many, and without resources, having fled my home with more than
While Humane Society of Louisiana executive director Jeff
Dorson and animal services director Johnna Harris remained in
Tylertown, running the temporary shelter and field rescue
operations, Nesbitt set up a temporary business office in Sharon
Through October 2, the Humane Society of Louisiana had
housed about 350 animals at the Tylertown encampment.
The American SPCA
While HSUS handled the overall management of the Lamar-Dixon
and Hattiesburg rescue center and water rescue operations, the ASPCA
took charge of identifying the incoming animals from whatever sparse
clues were available.
Even the colors of many new animals were unclear until they
Daily intake peaked at 775 on September 15, the first day ANIMAL
“As New Orleans animals are brought to the staging area,
they are photographed by Cajun Clicker Computer Organization to
expedite reuniting them with their families,” the ASPCA web site
explained. “Petfinder.com is hosting the database of information on
these displaced pets. The ASPCA is working with the Austin Humane
Society to establish a hotline for hurricane evacuees from Louisiana
and Mississippi who need help in locating their animals,” the web
“Within the first few days of operation,” the ASPCA said,
“the Austin Humane Society has taken in over 75 animals and reunited
15 pets with their people.”
The ASPCA also participated in water rescue. The first ASPCA
water rescue mission, undertaken on September 5 with personnel from
Spring Farm Cares in Clinton, New York, netted “25 cats, 14 dogs,
one pet snake, and a gentleman who been overlooked by earlier
rescuers,” ASPCA National Outreach spokesperson Sandy Monterose
said. Gaining experience, the team picked up 140 animals the next
But there were nonetheless problems. The ASPCA mobile
spay/neuter van, driven to New Orleans by mobile unit manager Chris
Fagan and special events and outreach manager Allison Cardona,
picked up 16 dogs and a kitten on its first rescue mission. Trying
to return to Lamar-Dixon through streets littered with debris, the
van blew two tires.
“Chris and Mike West from the disaster response team Code 3
went hunting for tires from abandoned vehicles,” reported the ASPCA
web site. “Chris had to do a ‘water rescue’ to obtain the second
“Exhausted and now very late, the crew headed to
Lamar-Dixon. They were met by armed guards denying them access.
Lamar-Dixon had reached its maximum occupancy, and the guards’
orders were to turn away anyone coming with animals.
“They were instructed to head to Baton Rouge to leave the
animals at Louisiana State University,” the ASPCA web site
continued. “There they were turned away because the LSU site is for
owned animals, not strays.
“After pulling a few strings,” the web site finished, “they
were finally able to unload their precious cargo and call it a night.
“They were luckier than many rescuers, who ended up caring
for their rescued animals in a strip mall parking lot” near
Lamar-Dixon, until animals at Lamar-Dixon who had been adequately
identified could be evacuated to shelters in Texas and Calfornia,
opening up space for the new arrivals.
A second ASPCA team arrived on September 6.
ASPCA southern regional shelter outreach manager Laura Lanza
did shelter damage assessment, having become familiar with the
disaster area during 18 years as director of Calcasieu Parish Animal
Services. Lanza reported on September 20 that eight animal shelters
had been completely destroyed by Katrina, including those of the
Louisiana SPCA, St. Bernard Parish and Placquemine Parish animal
control, and Jefferson Parish SPCA & Animal Services in Louisiana,
plus the Humane Society of Southern Mississippi, the Biloxi Animal
Shelter, the St. Frances Animal Shelter, and Waveland Animal
Shelter in Mississippi.
Damaged facilities in Louisiana, according to Lanza,
included those of the Riverlands SPCA, Slidell Animal Shelter,
Humane Society of Louisiana, Washington Humane Society, St. Charles
Parish Humane Society, St. John Humane Society, Bogalusa Animal
Shelter, St. Tammany Humane Society, and the St. Tammany Animal
Also damaged was the Pearlington Humane Society in Mississippi.
While several of the shelters that Lanza listed were soon
back up and running, that just meant they were helping to cope with
an expanding crisis.
Seventeen dogs and six cats drowned at the Humane Society of
Southern Mississippi in Gulfport, while 125 animals survived by
swimming for hours, according to Associated Press.
By September 29, the mucked-out facilities were inundated
“Dogs and cats are pouring in,” In Defense of Animals
reported. “The shelter is up and running and so by law, must take
the strays. The Humane Society of Southern Mississippi is releasing
animals to any nonprofit groups who can send drivers to get them.
They are not euthanizing now, but will be after October 5,” when
the required holding time for the first animals received after
Katrina was to expire.
“Our immediate needs are being taken care of by HSUS,
Project Halo, and animal control officers from around the
Southeast,” Humane Society of Southern Mississippi president Tara
High posted, but acknowledged an urgent need for veterinary help
after the American Veterinary Medical Association demobilized their
Veterinary Medical Assistance Team on October 1.
The ASPCA on September 21 acknowledged having raised more
than $9 million for animal relief after Hurricane Katrina, of which
$1 million had already been spent for emergency relief and $2.5
million was pledged to help stricken humane societies rebuild. The
funding was shared among 38 organizations, with the largest sums,
$200,000 each, allocated to the Louisiana SPCA and Humane Society of
The $2.5 ASPCA pledge for shelter rebuilding was matched by
HSUS, which reportedly raised more than $20 million around the
The ASPCA and HSUS “are seeking total funding of $10 – $15
million for shelter reconstruction, and will begin appealing
immediately to pet-friendly corporations, the government, and other
sources to attain the financial goal,” a press release stated.
IDA & Stray Rescue
“In the first weeks after Hurricane Katrina, Stray Rescue of
St. Louis arranged foster homes for more than 100 animals and
collected more than 400 donated kennels,” wrote Sarah Casey Newman
of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
After trying unsuccessfully to set up a temporary animal
shelter near the Red Cross shelter for displaced people at the St.
Louis airport, Stray Rescue partnered with Project Hope, of
Grenada, Mississippi, sponsored by In Defense of Animals. “We set
up a camp on the beach in Waveland, Mississippi,” Stray Rescue
founder Randy Grim told Newman.
Waveland, population 7,000, 35 miles east of New Orleans,
was among the hardest hit communities. “At night, we’d set traps
and rescue animals,” Grim explained. “We’d take them back to the
MASH units, where the vets would take care of them. Then we’d
number, tag, and photograph them, and truck them to Hattiesburg,
to be held for 30 days to give their owners time to find and claim
“For days,” the IDA web site reported on September 7,
“Project Hope director Doll Stanley helped with relief efforts in
Jackson while waiting to get her team into the hardest-hit areas of
Mississippi. While her efforts were helpful in Jackson, Doll knew
the situation was far worse further south. Finally, the National
Guard gave them permission to pass, and they set out in a convoy of
three vehicles to Kiln, in Hancock County. Along the way, they
delivered hay and dog food,” and collected stray homeless dogs and
cats, for relay to Citizens for Animal Protection in Houston.
Later, Project Hope and Stray Rescue relayed animals to St.
Louis for adoption in a series of volunteer convoys.
A second IDA team headed by Debbie Young arrived in New
Orleans on October 1, as other rescue groups were going home, to
help capture the dogs and cats who were still at large in
neighborhoods soon to be bulldozed.
IDA office manager Anita Carswell won brief fame when USA
Today profiled her rescue of a cat named Phoenix.
Kinship Circle volunteers Brenda Shoss and Janet Enoch, also
of St. Louis, and Julia Fisher of Mobile, distinguished themselves
throughout the Katrina/Rita crisis by preparing and distributing
daily electronic briefings for volunteers. They also maintained a
storage depot for donated supplies in Mobile.
By September 3, Shoss told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “Offering
information has turned into a full time job mobilizing volunteers,
veterinarians, vet techs, transport services, and supplies.
We’ve been sending help–and talking to Best Friends, HSUS,
Pasado’s, et al to not send people where they are unwanted. I get
about 200 volunteer inquiries a day,” Shoss said, “and have
organized databases to match people to need.”
But Shoss and Enoch were frustrated by the lack of electronic
media attention to animal rescue during the first week of the
disaster. On September 4 they drafted an open letter to “to over 200
media contacts at CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox TV news,” put it
together with a selection of print media news items collected by
Cathy Czapla of ANIMAL PEOPLE, and asked their readers to reinforce
the message that stranded animals needed to be noticed.
“We emailed. We faxed. We called. All day,” Shoss
summarized. “Tonight, Larry King mentioned animal disaster relief
twice in his three-hour special, How You Can Help, referencing
information from ASPCA.”
Yet Shoss did not declare victory. Instead, she urged
supporters to back off the campaign.
“I just got off the phone with Fox producer David Brown,”
Shoss continued. “Unfortunately, our emails are blocking the onsite
devices they used to communicate with reporters in stricken areas.
Mr. Brown was extremely polite and assured me animal disaster relief
resources would be posted on Fox’s website, and that Jack Hanna had
covered this issue in a two-hour special. We assume CNN, ABC, CBS
and NBC are experiencing the same problems from e-mail overload.
“Ultimately, these media outlets could block our emails,”
Shoss warned, “defeating our plea for the animals.”
Nothing more was heard about the e-mail and call-in barrage,
but from September 4 on, both television and print media paid
markedly more attention to animal rescue.
“This is the largest animal rescue in the history of the
United States,” Unified Incident Command for Animal Rescue
spokesperson Larry Hawkins told Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Will
Sentiel noted the involvement of the Louisiana Department of
Agriculture & Forestry, the USDA, the Louisiana Veterinary Medical
Association’s Small Animal Response Team, the Louisiana State
University School of Veterinary Medicine and the Louisiana SPCA–but
those were only some of the many organizations that lent a hand.
“Noah’s Ark is pretty full,” Humane Society of North Texas
director of animal care Tammy Kirkpatrick told Paul J. Weber of