Wednesday, September 07, 2005

New Orleans Pet Rescue Gathers Steam News Staff

With progress being made in evacuating people from New Orleans, some are turning their attention to other living creatures affected by the flooding: pets.

People left thousands of dogs, cats and other family pets behind in the rush to escape either Hurricane Katrina or the flooding that followed.

"We alone at the Humane Society of the United States, through our 1-800 number, logged 1,500 calls from people who lived in New Orleans and said they left their pets there," the Humane Society's Wayne Pacelle told Canada AM Tuesday.

"They simply misjudged how long they'd be gone. They left food for a couple of days, and now of course, people won't be able to enter for months."

Many of those animals sit forlornly on the rooftops of flooded homes, slowly starving to death as rescue boats ignore them, looking for people instead. Some have even tried swimming to boats, only to be rebuffed by the rescuers.

"A lot of these animals are pit bulls, rottweilers. We're not approaching the dogs if we can help it," says Jitm Metza, a U.S. Coast Guard searcher.

One fear is that after seven days in the hot sun, with no food, and drinking nothing but polluted water, the dogs might be dangerous.

On dry land, stray dogs have formed packs to scavenge the city for food.

Help for animals, however, is coming.

"There are hundreds of people on the ground now, who are trained in emergency animal rescue disaster response, just waiting to get into the areas hardest hit," Betsy Saul, president of, told CNN on Monday.

It appears that pets were one reason why many people stayed behind in the flooded city. One man "refused to leave even at gunpoint when he was ordered to leave by the patrolmen in our boat," said CTV News Toronto's Paul Bliss.

"He said no because he had seven dogs that he want stay and take care of."

CTV's Jed Kahane met another couple who turned down a ride out to wait a few days and walk out of the flood zone with their dogs and other pets.

"They're dependent," Adrienne Price said, a snake around her neck. "This is my kid. These are my babies."

Many people who did evacuate were forced by authorities to abandon their pets before being whisked off to a different city or state.

Saul said there is information available at, "and certainly if they want to contact us directly ... we can get make sure they have the information they need to get to the (bus)."
The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) also has a searchable online database to help reunite pets with their owners. Volunteers who want to help can register on the society's website.

Several temporary animal shelters have been set up around southern Louisiana and Mississippi -- some next to shelters for human evacuees so people could visit their pets, she said.

Louisiana State University is providing shelter for hundreds of dogs and cats in an arena. One such shelter in Gonzalez, La. is taking pictures of every animal and uploading them to the Internet.

Besides pets, the flooding has damaged some of New Orleans' animal attractions.

The electricity failure meant no ability to pump oxygen into the water at the New Orleans aquarium, resulting in the deaths of about one-third of the 4,000 fish there.

At the zoo, 12 people are trying to take care of about 1,400 animals. After seeing what Hurricane Andrew did to Miami's zoo in 1992, the New Orleans facility upgraded its hurricane preparations, so losses there were minimal.

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