Hurricanes Gustav & Ike test federal pet evacuation mandate
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2008:
HOUSTON, NEW ORLEANS– Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, hitting
the Gulf Coast barely more than a week apart in September 2008,
brought the first major test of the Pets Evacuation and
Transportation Standards Act, passed by Congress in 2006.
The PETS Act was passed after evidence surfaced that many of
the human fatalities attributed to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 resulted
from people refusing to evacuate because they could not take pets
with them. The purpose of the PETS Act is to ensure that provisions
for pet evacuation are incorporated into regional disaster planning.
“Three years after pet owners were reduced to tears while
being forced to leave their dogs and cats in neighborhoods affected
by Hurricane Katrina, emergency response officials are taking
extraordinary care to ensure animal safety,” wrote Alex Branch of
the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
“We’re making sure the pets go where their owners go,”
United Animal Nations volunteer Sandy Cochran told Branch.
Gustav, doing relatively little damage, proved to be a
valuable “wet run” for Ike, believed to be the third most costly
hurricane to ever hit the U.S., after Katrina and Hurricane Andrew
In Shreveport, “Using lessons from Hurricane Katrina, when
people refused to evacuate without their pets, the state created the
Louisiana Mega Shelter,” wrote Cindy Wolff of the Memphis Commercial
Appeal. “More than 800 dogs and cats from residents, local rescue
groups and shelters were housed at the shelter, tended by volunteers
from national groups. People registered their pets with the state
when they left. The animals were loaded into air-conditioned trucks
and taken to Shreveport.” Their humans were notified when the
animals could be reclaimed.
Twenty-nine dogs, four cats, and a bird belonging to Gustav
evacuees were housed at the Mobile County Emergency Management
Agency’s temporary shelter at the Boys & Girls Club in Semmes.
“We’ve been planning this service for two years,” Mobile
SPCA humane officer Elizabeth Flott told Renee Busby of the Mobile
Dallas Animal Services practiced for the much larger influx
of animals received in connection with Ike by housing 43 pets of
Gustav evacuees in a temporary shelter in the Reunion Arena parking
“Officials in cities across Texas say housing the furry,
feathered and scaly loved ones of evacuees has for the most part gone
well,” reported Root and Brown of Associated Press, as the Ike
rescue effort wound down.
“We are seeing fewer animals left behind,” said Humane
Society of the U.S. senior director of emergency services Scott
Haisley. “The PETS Act is not only saving pets’ lives–it’s saving
No reports of human deaths associated with trying to save
animals from Gustav and Ike reached ANIMAL PEOPLE.
“Gustav approached Louisiana while we were in New Orleans at
the Katrina Memorial ceremony on August 30th, remembering the tens
of thousands of dogs, cats and other animals who died during
Hurricane Katrina,” reported Companion Animal Network founder Garo
Alexanian. “Mandatory evacuation got us out barely in time, and we
flew home to New York City to organize a major rescue effort.”
The Humane Society of Louisiana organized the Katrina
Memorial ceremony, and several follow-up fundraisers, but had to
cancel everything but the dedication of a statue to the memory of the
animals lost to Katrina.
Katrina destroyed the former Humane Society of Louisiana
shelter in New Orleans, soon after staff and volunteers evacuated
157 animals to the premises of the St. Francis Animal Sanctuary in
Tylertown, Mississippi, a two-hour drive north. The sanctuary also
housed the Best Friends Animal Society post-Katrina rescue effort.
Katrina likewise destroyed the Louisiana SPCA shelter. But
while the 120-year-old Lousiana SPCA quickly converted a former
warehouse into a new shelter and resumed operations in New Orleans
after only a brief hiatus, the barely 20-year-old Humane Society of
Louisiana has continued to work from Tylertown.
“We have been working to transform the former Camp Katrina
location in Tylertown into a permanent shelter and evacuation
facility, while reestablishing our organization in the New Orleans
area,” said Humane Society of Louisiana founder Jeff Dorson.
Apart from disrupting fundraising, Gustav destroyed a
portable building at the Tylertown site, and blew the roof off a
barn in Acadia, Louisiana, where Humane Society of Louisiana
volunteers coordinated by Janet Lyons had housed 13 cats and 10 dogs,
nine of them puppies.
Ike hits next
While Hurricane Gustav did less damage than expected,
“Hurricane Ike was bearing down,” Alexanian continued, “so by
September 8 we organized a 12-organization, five-vehicle convoy,
boarded our own best friends, drove to North Carolina to pick up our
24-foot mobile clinic, and on September 10 converged on Ascension
Parish,” which had requested help, “with volunteer groups from New
Jersey, New York, Colorado and Florida. We had to stay ahead of
Ike and get into and out of Louisiana before contraflow was
implemented. We slept in our cars for six days in a row, 2-3 hours
a day at most. We loaded the animals [who needed to be evacuated] and left.”
Vehicle trouble and trouble finding open gasoline stations
amid widespread electrical blackouts complicated Alexanian’s return
to New York, but the mission rescued 58 dogs, he said, “who would
otherwise have been put down to make room” for animals displaced by
The North Shore Animal League America sent two 40-foot mobile
rescue units to help evacuate animals from the Humane Society of
Greater Birmingham, the Mississippi Animal Rescue League, and the
Humane Society of Louisiana.
Many of the animals were previously relocated from the
Plaquemines Animal Welfare Society, “which is located below sea
level in Louisiana,” noted North Shore Animal League operations
director Joanne Yohannan. Other animals came from the Humane Society
of South Mississippi, St. Tammany Parish Animal Shelter, and
Slidell Animal Control.
A second North Shore mission, after Ike, took animals from
the Humane Society of Bexar County in San Antonio.
Bay County Animal Control in Panama City, Florida, took in
208 animals from Jefferson Parish.
The Tuscaloosa Metro Animal Shelter in Tuscaloosa, Alabama
housed animals for Gustav evacuees, while the Tusca-loosa County
Humane Society, and ADAR Rescue took in as many previously impounded
animals as possible from the Metro Animal Shelter to help make room
for the influx.
In Memphis, the Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County,
West Memphis Animal Services, and the Germantown Animal Welfare
League provided similar assistance.
Memphis also accommodated a traveling unit from the Ringling
Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, with three Asian elephants and six
white tigers, who fled ahead of Gustav from Biloxi to Jackson before
settling in Memphis at the FedExForum.
As after Katrina, the Houston SPCA and the SPCA of Texas
were also major receiving stations for animals evacuated from
Louisiana shelters, initially to make room for the anticipated
post-hurricane surge of lost and abandoned animals.
Accepting animals displaced by Gustav complicated matters
when animals displaced ahead of Ike began arriving.
“The SPCA of Texas took in about 300 animals from Louisiana
shelters before Gustav, then accepted 235 more from South Texas
shelters in Ike’s path,” reported Root and Brown of Associated
Press. The displaced animals were housed “in addition to the 500
cats and dogs already at the SPCA’s shelters in Dallas and McKinney,”
Root and Brown said.
“Animal rescue groups in other states helped out by taking
cats and dogs,” Root and Brown added, “but several hundred remain
at the Dallas-area shelters, as well as in other cities. They are
up for adoption and won’t return to their former shelters, which have
to make room for stranded pets found in the hard-hit cities along the
Ike killed at least 67 Americans, after killing more than
100 people with more than 400 missing in Haiti, Cuba, and other
Caribbean island nations. As well as devastating Galveston on
September 12, Ike knocked out electricity across much of Texas and
in other regions as far north as Quebec. Ike also briefly flooded
parts of Houston.
Ike destroyed the Galveston Island Humane Society, executive
director Caroline Dorsett told Leslie Casimir of the Houston
Added the Animal Rescue Central web site, “Ike left mass
destruction at the Galveston County Animal Shelter in Texas City.
The Houston SPCA Disaster Response team rescued 77 dogs, 65 cats,
one rabbit, some parakeets and a pelican,” from the shelter,
“along with other wildlife who sheltered in place with staff when the
hurricane hit. High winds and pounding rain ripped holes in the
ceilings, causing sheets of water to pour into the shelter, leaving
slick floors and soaked animals. The air conditioner went out,
forcing the animals to survive with insufficient ventilation.”
Only five dead animals were found on Galveston Island in the
first two days after Ike hit, Dorsett said, but the Best Friends
Animal Society Rapid Response Team later found many, reported team
leader Rich Crook.
More than 200 found animals taken to the Houston SPCA “look
like they were taken care of,” spokesperson Meera Nandlal told
media. “I’m sure they all have a story.”
The Houston SPCA also received more than 1,000 baby
squirrels. “Kind hearted people picked them up, put them in boxes
with soft rags like we told them to, and lined up to drop them off,”
volunteer Stacy Fox told MSNBC senior news editor Mike Stuckey.
“Volunteers are feeding the babies around the clock.”
When healthy and weaned, Fox said, the young squirrels will
be returned to the wild.
The Houston SPCA, Denver Dumb Friends League, Code 3
Associates, Humane Society of Pike’s Peak Region, SPCA/Los Angeles,
SPCA of Texas, Humane Society of Missouri and the Louisiana SPCA
combined forces to operate an emergency shelter in Galveston and
establish an online database of found animals to help return lost
pets to their people.
The Brazoria County SPCA and Bay Area SPCA of San Leon
assisted with the hands-on rescue.
The Houston Humane Society, on the Gulf side of the city,
suffered tree damage, broken fences, and wrecked equipment
including a horse trailer that was lost just when it was urgently
needed. Most normal operations were suspended, but the Houston
Humane Society continued to accept animals throughout the crisis
despite operating for more than two weeks on generator power.
The number of animals housed at the Houston Humane Society
“nearly quintupled, due to the care of animals from La Porte,
Pasadena, and other municipalities,” the society announced.
The Houston SPCA, on some of the highest land in the city,
likewise suspended normal operations while serving as a disaster
rescue base. On September 13, said the Houston SPCA’s Animal
Rescue Central web site, “we sheltered 233 animals from Galveston,
took in another 149 at the temporary shelter on the island, and
conducted 141 rescues. Overall, nearly 600 animals have arrived
from our island temporary shelter and our teams in the field have
conducted over 600 rescues. Hundreds of Houstonians responded to our
‘Operation Safe-a-Life’ plea and have opened their hearts and homes
to foster Galveston pets for 10 days,” to give evacuees who were
staying in the Houston area a better chance to find the animals.
Other Texas shelters, including the Austin Humane Society
and Town Lake Animal Shelter in Austin, housed animals for human
evacuees who were temporarily bivouaced in their communities.
The American SPCA allocated more than $75,000 to Gustav and
Ike animal relief work, including grants to the Louisiana SPCA,
Humane Society of Louisiana, Animal Rescue New Orleans, Plaquemines
Animal Welfare Society, Denham Springs Animal Shelter, Animal Aid
of Vermillion Parish, Greater Birmingham Humane Society, and Wild
Wild Animal Orphanage was funded specifically to do animal
transport, but a loose tiger was reported at Crystal Beach on the
Bolivar Peninsula in Galveston County, and lion caretaker Michael
Ray Kujawa found refuge for himself and the big cat at a Baptist
church on Bolivar Island, after rising water cut off his escape.
“He headed for the church and was met by residents who helped
the lion wade inside,” reported Associated Press national writer
Allen G. Breed.
Locked in a sanctuary, “the lion was as calm as a kitten,”
Breed said, despite water that rose to the waists of the humans and
debris that floated in through broken windows.
“When you have to swim, the lion doesn’t care about eating
nobody,” said Kujawa.
“National Guardsmen dropping off food and water lined up in
the choir loft to get a glimspe of the lion,” Breed added. “The
soldiers jumped back when the lion looked up from his perch on the
altar and snarled.”
The ASPCA funded three horse rescue projects, including
Habitat for Horses, Hopeful Haven Equine Rescue, and the Walter
Ernst Foundation, a subsidiary of the Louisiana Veterinary Medical
Habitat for Horses founder Jerry Lynch led horse and cattle
rescue efforts on Galveston Island at the request of the Galveston
County Sheriff’s Department despite extensive damage to Habitat for
Horses’ own 27-acre rescue facility.
“All the shelters for horses have been flattened, including
a new barn,” spokesperson Valerie Kennedy told Stuckey of MSNBC.
“All their hay and equipment was completely ruined,” Kennedy
added–but the 60 horses on the premises all escaped injury.
Among Lynch’s more immediate problems were animals who “swam
until they found someplace to stand,” he told Stuckey, and then
were trapped in unlikely locations.
“We got one bull down there still standing on a porch,”
Lynch said on September 17. “We can’t get him down yet.”
The problem in that case is that the legs of cattle are not
jointed in a manner that allows them to easily navigate flights of
Livestock rescues elsewhere in the Gustav and Ike disaster
areas were coordinated by the National Cattlemen’s Foundation.
“Approximately 7,000 cattle are trapped in water or on levies
from Cameron to St. Bernard Parishes in Louisiana,” Meat & Poultry
reported on September 17. “[Lack of] fresh water is a concern there,
and hay is a critical need.”
Of the estimated 40,000 cattle kept in Jefferson and Chambers
counties in Texas, Meat & Poultry added, about 25,000 were missing.
The Meat & Poultry report went to press shortly before aerial
surveys by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service confirmed that at
least 4,000 of the missing cattle were dead. “They’re being eaten by
alligators,” AgriLife Extension Service spokesperson Kathleen
Phillips told Associated Press agriculture writer Betsy Blaney.
As many as 15,000 cattle were roaming at large, without
access to clean feed and fresh water.
“The storm’s surge carried cows up to 20 miles from their
pastures,” reported Kate Murphy of The New York Times. Two weeks
after Ike, Murphy wrote, “Dead cows can be seen rotting in the
forks of trees, and lone calves wander looking for their mothers.
Displaced and severely dehydrated cows have been herded into fenced
pastures north of where the storm surge ended. They are marked with
brands from the scores of ranches in the area and need to be sorted.”
“There are no fences any more for about 20 miles inland from
the coast,” Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas director
Bill Hyman told Murphy.
Cuban chicken rescue
Before approaching Texas, Gustav and Ike struck the Pinar
del Rio region of Cuba–and Ike circled back to hit Pinar del Rio
again two days later. The hurricanes reportedly destroyed 93 laying
hen barns in the Pinar del Rio area, damaging 205 others, leaving
just 92 intact, the official Cuban News Agency reported.
Workers–about two-thirds of whom lost their own homes–evacuated
350,000 laying hens to other facilities in Pinar del Rio and Havana,
said the Cuban News Agency, and were scrambling to feed them, after
two local feed mills were damaged.
Mass evacuations of poultry from barns hit by natural
disaster is not standard procedure in the U.S., or in most of the
world. Usually birds trapped in wrecked barns are either killed on
site or just left to die.
The report that Cubans had evacuated so many hens amid the
devastation was especially surprising in view of the high cost of
fuel in Cuba, the scarcity of motor vehicles, and a mention in the
same Cuban News Agency dispatch that the hens’ egg production fell by
half as the hurricanes approached.