Social Effects of Hurricane Katrina - Animal Issues

Animal Issues

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, approximately 8,000 animals were rescued and brought to temporary shelters set up at the Lamar-Dixon Exposition Center in Gonzales, Louisiana, or the Parker Coliseum at Louisiana State University.

Most helicopter pilots and rescue boat captains refused to load pets in order to hold more people. Many families in the affected area refused to evacuate without their pets. While some field hospitals allowed pets to enter with their patients, those who were evacuated from the Superdome were not allowed to take their pets with them.

One case that attracted national attention was that of Snowball, a small white dog made famous by coverage of an Associated Press reporter, who said, "When a police officer confiscated a little boy's dog, the child cried until he vomited. 'Snowball, Snowball', he cried." The story of "Snowball" became a centerpiece in fundraising appeals by welfare organizations and various ad-hoc websites were created by people soliciting funds to help locate Snowball and reunite him with the boy.

Rescue teams were set up in the worst hit regions in response to desperate pleas from pet owners. Horses posed a particular problem, as they are easily stranded and cannot stand in water for long periods of time. Rescue agencies set up shelters and tried to find homes to adopt pets lost by their owners. Rescue centers were becoming overwhelmed in the days immediately following the hurricane. Several online resources were set up to give rescue groups, individuals, and businesses from around the country a centralized venue to publish their offers and requests for helping the animals displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Most of the 10,000 fish at the New Orleans Aquarium of the Americas died because the backup power ran out after four days. Most of the marine mammals and a large sea turtle survived. The Audubon Zoo lost only three animals out of a total of 1,400 due to good disaster planning and location on high ground.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in conjunction with the Louisiana SPCA and many other groups, had hundreds of staff and volunteers working in Louisiana and Mississippi. As of September 20, 2005, 6,031 animals were rescued and 400 were reunited with their owners. An estimated 600,000 pets were killed or left without shelter as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

Inspired by the story of Snowball, US Representative Tom Lantos (D-California) introduced the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act to the House of Representatives which would require states seeking FEMA assistance to accommodate pets and service animals in their plans for evacuating residents facing disasters. The bill passed with an overwhelming majority on May 22, 2006.

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