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Five Year Katrina Anniversary
Today, we remember and reflect
Thousands of dogs and cats were rescued from homes in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina.

When my husband and I evacuated our New Orleans home the day before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, we assumed that this would be an unexpected, albeit nice visit with my parents in the Chicago area. Surely, we’d head back in a week or so. On August 29, 2005, we learned our fate; there was no going home.

In shock, I took comfort in the fact that our beloved pets – four dogs and two cats – were safe with us. It soon became clear that many other people were not so fortunate and thousands of dogs and cats were in danger of dying due to starvation, heat or worse. Animal lovers from around the country poured into New Orleans and Mississippi, selflessly sacrificing their time and money to save as many pets as they could.

I admired their efforts and yet, I felt for those owners who were unable to bring their pets with them and desperately tried to track them down. In some cases, the pet was found only to have the new owner refuse to reunite them, claiming that the animal had been abandoned, or neglected prior to the storm.

When I interviewed people frantically looking for their animals, I started to have nightmares. The most vivid opened with me sitting in a beautiful old theater and spotting my pets near a woman a few rows away. I called out to her, “Those are my dogs and cats! I need to take them home!” The woman turned toward me and said, “You can’t. You have no home.”

The first time I needed to take one of my dogs to a vet in Illinois, I was asked about his breed and where he was from. I said Louisiana and the tech said, “Oh, a Katrina dog!” No, I corrected her. He is from Louisiana and so am I.

Five years later, and having relocated to the Chicago area, I still occasionally hear people refer to their Katrina dog or cat. Though I am glad that these animals survived, honestly, the label makes me wince. Had we not been able to transport our pets with us, would someone else be calling my 13-year-old Catahoula, Desoto, their “Katrina” dog? Would he have a different name? Would all four dogs, even our Pit Bull mix, Shelby, have been saved? Our cats, Cricket and Bruiser Bear, are siblings. Would they have been separated?

Of course, the alternative would’ve been far worse. In the weeks and months after the biggest man-made disaster in U.S. history, I heard from friends and neighbors what happened to people and pets who were not rescued in time. I saw graphic images on websites and in the news. They are impossible to forget, and they shouldn’t be forgotten.

Fortunately, the lessons gleaned from this tragedy should prevent any animal from being left behind again. Thanks to the PETS Act, people are allowed to bring their pets with them to an emergency shelter. The Louisiana SPCA has since rebuilt, giving safe haven to homeless and unwanted pets in a beautiful, modern shelter. Plus, its volunteer and adoption programs are stronger than ever.

Civic activism became a new, necessary way of life. Local animal lovers and the LA/SPCA persuaded the city council to pass the Intact Dog Ordinance earlier this year, a major victory in the cause against pet overpopulation.

Challenges remain, but as a Katrina survivor once said, New Orleans will always be between storms. The difference is now we are prepared to ride them out.


Julia Kamysz Lane, owner of Spot On K9 Sports and contributing editor at The Bark, is the author of multiple New Orleans travel guides, including Frommer’s New Orleans Day by Day (3rd Edition). Her work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets and Writers and Publishers Weekly.

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Submitted by Alexis Madison | August 30 2010 |

I really wish that the rather "weak" legislation designed to allow people to evacuate in disasters with their pets was actually followed by law enforcement and emergency volunteers, too many of them either never having heard of the new law or having no intention of following the new law. I recall in Washington state in a flooding episode about a year or so ago a policeman actually used physical force against a woman who was trying to get her dog out of harm's way. She finally screamed at the top of her lungs that she was not leaving without her dog and somehow broke away from this overzealous cop and was able to get to her dog. It was all over the news in western Washington. The cop's response was "it's just a dog." Truly! In THIS day and age, to have law enforcement say such a thing -- !!

Submitted by Ronnie | August 30 2010 |

I live at the tip of Texas, near the coast and the Mexican border. We went through Hurricane Dolly in '08, and while not as devastating as Katrina, we went for almost a week without power. During that time, I had to care for my mom, myself, and my Doxie, Max. Finding ice and clean water for all three of us was a hassle...again, nothing on the scope of Katrina. But I made up my mind after that, we would evacuate even if the next one was a Category 2...and Max is coming with us. I will not leave my mom and him behind.

Submitted by Pamela | August 31 2010 |

We have so much to learn. Caring for animals and caring for people is not one or the other. We're inextricably linked.

The PETS act is only a first step in this realization. Change is coming.

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