New Orleans rescue ends with a storm

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2005:

NEW ORLEANS–The biggest animal rescue
effort in U.S. history officially ended on
October 25, 2005.
On advice of assistant state veterinarian
Martha Littlefield, Louisiana Governor Kathleen
Blanco allowed the temporary permits issued to
out-of-state veterinarians assisting animal
relief efforts in New Orleans to expire.
Out-of-state rescuers still operating
temporary shelters and feeding programs were
thanked and asked to return home, to leave the
remaining work to local agencies.
“We are literally seeing animals on the
streets starving to death,” objected
AnimalRescueNewOrleans founder Jane Garrison, of
Charleston, South Carolina. “We need more
volunteers to feed and water the thousands of
traumatized animals still on the streets, we
need to keep trapping animals so we can reunite
them with their guardians, and we need a massive
spay/neuter program.”

“We have been unable to find local vets
who can provide consistent care for the cats
housed at our temporary shelter in Bogalusa, let
alone enough to conduct the type of large-scale
spay/neuter program that is so desperately
needed,” added Alley Cat Allies national
director Becky Robinson. “We need about a dozen
veterinarians experienced with high-volume
surgery. Many out-of-state vets have offered
their services, free of charge.
“If the state government doesn’t allow us
to feed, treat, and find homes for the thousands
of animals struggling to survive now,” Robinson
fumed, “it is in for a rude awakening next year.
The number of free-roaming cats and dogs will be
devastating. The state claims that local
authorities can handle the problem,” Robinson
charged, “but rescuers on the ground know this
is not the case. One of the hardest hit areas,
St. Bernard Parish, has no active animal control
agency or functioning animal shelter. The
Louisiana SPCA does not have anywhere close to
the staff, space, or resources required to
address a problem of this magnitude.”
Responded Louisiana SPCA executive
director Laura Maloney, “Please be assured that
I recognize and value the tremendous effort
demonstrated by those who have given their time
and resources to save our animals. It would be
foolish to think that the Louisiana SPCA could
have handled this alone.”
But Maloney noted that, “Visiting animal
control teams and local residents are not seeing
evidence of thousands of starving animals. We’re
trapping every night and definitely seeing
strays, but we’re not seeing thousands. We have
been trapping between 15 and 30 animals per day. “
The longtime Louisiana SPCA headquarters
on Japonica Street in New Orleans was damaged
beyond repair.
Maloney said that until a temporary Louisiana
SPCA shelter in Algiers has appropriate adoption
facilities, some adoptable animals would be
transferred for rehoming to the Plaquemines
Animal Welfare Society in Belle Chasse.
To prepare for the next phase of the
post-Katrina/Rita animal recovery effort,
Maloney said, “We are deploying a multi-agency
assessment team, which is visiting the city’s
animal rescue hot spots. We are working two
shifts, at dawn and dusk, when animals are most
active.
“We always need volunteers,” Maloney
added. “Not everyone, however, wants to work
within the system,” an increasing problem for
the Louisiana SPCA and other local agencies as
residents returned to the city.

Complaints

Some residents who recovered lost pets,
or returned to New Orleans with pets, complained
that the animals were snatched by rescuers who
wrongly presumed that any animal they saw was
abandoned. Some returnees threatened to shoot
would-be rescuers who repeatedly broke into homes
to search for animals. Tempers were additionally
frayed by rescuers who spray-painted houses or
even parked cars to identify the locations of
animals for others.
The Louisiana SPCA and animal control
agencies found themselves on the receiving end of
countless complaints about the actions of
rescuers they knew nothing about.
“Sadly, we were forwarded emails where
people mentioned testing us with false reports to
see how fast we would respond,” Maloney told
ANIMAL PEOPLE on November 13. “Yesterday, one
of our visiting teams responded to a call only to
see an ‘animal rescue’ vehicle flee when they
approached. I would hope that rescuers wouldn’t
waste valuable resources playing games with
animals’ lives.”
“An unfortunate reality,” Maloney
continued, “is that we will never know how many
more animals might have been saved had
unsanctioned rescuers been willing to work
cooperatively with regional and state
authorities. Precious time and resources have
been wasted through working at cross-purposes and
duplicating services.”
Maloney noted that some ad hoc rescue
groups worked with “untrained volunteers who may
have arrived the very morning they were deployed.
Perhaps assigning them to cage cleaning or other
support tasks would have been a better use of
their skills,” she suggested, noting that “When
I asked for volunteers to stay behind and help
care for the animals at Lamar-Dixon,” the
largest of the post-Katrina temporary rescue
centers, “it was clear that many of the
unskilled volunteers were more interested in
fulfilling their personal needs than in doing
what was most needed by the animals.”

Summing up

The Humane Society of the U.S. withdrew
from New Orleans in mid-October after a two-week
phase-out of operations. As the lead agency
coordinating the relief efforts until then, HSUS
“helped to rescue more than 8,200 stranded pets
and other animals,” summarized HSUS president
Wayne Pacelle. “At peak, our Lamar-Dixon
emergency shelter in Gonzales, Louisiana housed
nearly 2,000 animals, and more than 300 people
attended to their needs. Our facility at
Hattiesburg, Mississippi, handled nearly 2,400
animals.
“We helped reunite more than 800 rescued
pets with the people who love them,” Pacelle
continued. “We have pledged, with the American
SPCA, to pay whatever costs are necessary to
transport animals to be reunited with their
people. More than 40 HSUS staff and a cadre of
volunteers are working to match lost pets with
their caregivers.”
The rescue operations had by October
reached a point of steeply diminishing returns.
Only about 5% of the total number of animals who
were rescued were recovered after September, and
few of those were not found loose, outdoors.
“If an animal was still home, he was on
the edge of life,” Iowa State University
assistant professor of veterinary pathology
Christine Peterson told Des Moines Register staff
writer Mike Kilen, after spending the last week
of September seeking animals in deserted houses.
“The vast majority of them were dehydrated,
emaciated, and had parasites.”
Two dogs died for every cat, Peterson
found. But once she found a woman lying dead
with her seven cats.
“She did not want to leave them,”
Petersen told Kilen. “It was not easy to see.”
Added animal control officer Michael
Melchionne, of Stafford, New Jersey, to Asbury
Park Press staff writer Joe Zedalis, “You can’t
believe how many animals we found dead on the
beds of their people or at the front door,
waiting for them to return.”
After encountering so much death, many
rescuers compulsively sought live animals, whose
recovery might bring them some consolation, even
long after there were any to be found. The
syndrome was familiar to disaster relief
veterans, but difficult to counter.
Remaining rescuers hopes were raised,
for example, when Kim Campbell Thornton reported
on November 3 for MSNBC that, “More than two
months after Hurricane Katrina, animals are
still being found alive in New Orleans, pulled
out of attics and from beneath flooring, or” in
all but a handful of cases, “off of the streets.”
Since October 1, Thornton said, when
the HSUS rescue centers quit taking animals,
“volunteers with Animal Rescue New Orleans have
rescued more than 400 animals, delivering them
to the Best Friends shelter on the grounds of
Saint Francis Animal Sanctuary in Tylertown,
Mississippi.”
Confirmed Best Friends president Michael Mountain
on November 5, “Another 155 animals rescued from
New Orleans left the Best Friends rescue center
at Tylertown last week with foster groups from
around the country.
“We began running short of foster groups
early in the week,” Mountain said, “and had to
stop taking in more animals for a few days.
Instead, we temporarily placed the new rescues
in boarding kennels.” The Tylertown rescue
center was still receiving about 20 animals per
day, with about 400 on the premises at any given
time, according to Mountain.
“We’re expecting to keep the rescue
center open through the end of this year,”
Mountain said, “since the other major rescue
organizations are now less active in the region.”
“Many of the animals have special needs,
such as high levels of heartworm, and
behavioral issues arising from the conditions
they have been in,” Mountain mentioned.

Spending the money

Estimating that up to 80% of the dogs
rescued from the Hurricane Katrina disaster area
had heartworm, carried by mosquitoes, HSUS,
the ASPCA, the Humane Society of Greater Miami,
Adopt-a-Pet, and the American Animal Hospital
Association on November 4 jointly announced a
subsidized heartworm treatment program.
Subsidies of up to $500 per animal will
be made available for animals from more than 200
participating shelters who are treated by an
AAHA-accredited veterinary practice.
Money did not seem to be an issue for the
organizations whose fundraising arms responded
promptly to Katrina and Rita. HSUS reportedly
raised $18 million. The American SPCA raised $13
million. Network For Good vice president Katya
Andresen told Houston Chronicle reporter Cynthia
Garza that Noah’s Wish ranked third among animal
groups in funds raised, at $6.5 million, though
mentioned in only 31 (5.3%) of the 581 print and
electronic news items that ANIMAL PEOPLE received
about the Katrina/Rita animal relief effort.
HSUS was mentioned in 165 items, Best Friends in 104, and the ASPCA in 95.
As well as helping humane societies hit
by Katrina and Rita to rebuild, the ASPCA
offered incentive grants of $500 “to each rescue
site that reunites a pet and owner, as well as
grants to pay for the cost of the return of the
pet.”

Lessons learned

“I find myself struggling with the
nagging fear that we could have saved more
animals,” wrote American Humane Association
disaster relief coordinator Dick Green in an
online blog. “If there had just been more hours
of daylight, no curfew, better intelligence,
more trained responders, better cooperationĊ If
there is any consolation, it is that our country
is beginning to understand how intricately
connected the safety and well-being of humans and
animals are.”
“We had an emergency plan, but I have
learned it is not enough,” Humane Society of the
Nature Coast executive director Joanne Schoch
told St. Petersburg Times staff writer Beth N.
Gray. Schoch made three trips to assist in the
Katrina/Rita disaster zone.

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