Best Friends Blog

Animals in disasters: how Katrina changed their world

In recent weeks, we have seen tornados tear through the South and the Mississippi River inundate towns and farmland from Missouri to Mississippi while New Orleans watches and waits.

Disasters are a fact of life, and animals are inevitably caught up in the turmoil. We have come a long way in how animals in disasters are related to both officially and by the nation’s animal welfare organizations. Many of the positive changes followed from the terrible consequences of Hurricane Katrina.

Katrina was certainly not the first natural disaster in which animal rescue played an important role. Every disaster affects animals of every category – from wildlife, to farm animal, to household pet. What distinguished Katrina was an apparent breakdown in the overall emergency response system combined with 24/7 news coverage for months on end that began with alarming images of people crammed into the Superdome or wading through toxic waters followed by heartrending video of stranded, starving dogs and kittens swimming through flooded streets and stories of heavy-handed evacuation personnel forcing people, often at gunpoint, to leave their household pets behind to fend for themselves.

Best Friends was the first national organization on the ground in the flooded areas of greater New Orleans and the last to leave. Over 4,000 animals came through our rescue and shelter operations, and we helped with the transport of another 2,000 displaced pets from the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Our team packed up in May of 2006, nine months after the storm blew through.

Katrina highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the animal welfare community as well as those of the federal and state governments in addressing the needs of animals, especially pets, in disasters. Up to and including Katrina, there was no requirement for human evacuation teams to even consider what to do with people’s pets. “No pets allowed” was the rule at emergency shelters for people, as it was on the buses that transported evacuees out of New Orleans and on the boats and choppers that pulled people off of rooftops and out of temporary gathering places, such as the second floor of local banks and high schools in St. Bernard Parish. Many abandoned animals died or were separated from their families permanently.

In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, the late California congressman Tom Lantos introduced a bill that tied future Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster money to a jurisdiction’s compliance with a newly enacted requirement to develop a pet evacuation plan that paralleled their human evacuation plan. It was called the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Safety Act (PETS Act). For the first time, pets were distinguished from other animals in federal legislation and given special consideration.

Best Friends met with Lantos and others in Washington to fill them in on the facts of the animal rescue effort. Lantos, a well-known animal advocate, described how he came to the decision to introduce the new law:

“The scene from New Orleans of a 9-year-old little boy crying because he was not allowed to take his little white dog Snowball was too much to bear. Personally, I know I wouldn’t have been able to leave my little white dog Masko to a fate of almost certain death. As I watched the images of the heartbreaking choices the gulf residents had to make, I was moved to find a way to prevent this from ever happening again.”

In addition to legislative changes, the humane community took it upon itself to coordinate future rescue and sheltering efforts and to align our work more closely with state and federal responders who now operate under the PETS Act mandate. Cross-organizational training and planning sessions have been taking place since 2006, and the new look of disaster response for animals has been in play since 2007, becoming more streamlined and effective than ever before.

The collaborative work that is being done across the South and the Midwest is a result of that interagency work. So, if you are seeing fewer cats in trees or dogs barking from rooftops across an expanse of floodwater, that’s the reason. Preplanning, early deployment, tight integration with human response teams and new official status for animal companions are good news for animals and their people.

As I write, multi-organizational teams are at work rescuing and sheltering animals across the flood- and storm-ravaged areas of the country. If you want to volunteer your help or donate to participating organizations, here are some links to follow: ASPCA, International Fund for Animal Welfare, American Humane Assocation, Code 3 Associates, United Animal NationsAmerican Veterinary Medical Foundation, PetSmart Charities, and The Humane Society of the United States.

Francis Battista
Co-Founder, Best Friends Animal Society

  • Pingback: tv online, online tv()

  • Pingback: free movie downloads()

  • Pingback: streaming movies()

  • Pingback: Blue Coaster33()

  • MFish

    THANK YOU SO MUCH for making sure Pets get evacuation too!!! They should not be left to suffer and or die.  I would not leave my animals, not fair we get rescued and saved and animals do not.  Animals are a vital part of our lives.  Thye give us so much and rely on us to protect them.  Giving them a safe, healthy place to live is the least we can do

  • Sassee

    and thats why I try to donate as much as I can afford……..u guys always touch my hearts.

  • Canadiangirl

    I just got back from a deployment to help those animals during the flood…they need you so much!!  amazing animals, looking for safety and most of all your love and care!!!  If you cannot help hands on, please donate so others who can help, can do so!!! 

  • Nice post , thanks for sharing.

  • Lovefelines2003

    Thank you Francis for this beautiful blog and reminder of all who are working so hard to rescue animals in the face of disaster.  I recently read that no one was ever able to find out what happened to little Snowball – does anyone have any updates about this?  That scene was one of the most gut wrenching I’ve ever witnessed and symbolizes all that is and was wrong in animal rescue during disasters. 

  • Rodent

    When the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan, my first thought was for all the animals, not the people, as I well knew that animals are always abandoned, left behind, just as the animals here in the U.S. were abandoned in homes, on farms and inside labs during Katrina, while all the people evacuated.  One example:   All 8,000 animals imprisoned in Louisiana State University’s laboratories, including mice, rats, dogs, cats, rabbits and monkeys, died in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Thousands of animals were abandoned in their cages and left to perish. Many animals drowned. Others suffocated, starved and dehydrated to death. 

    Nuclear Meltdown at Fukushima Plant:  “Livestock” not as “precious” as dogs:
    “Inland from the plant, there has been a huge cull of the livestock left inside the 18-mile mandatory exclusion zone with thousands of cows, horses and pigs being destroyed and some 260,000 chickens from the town of Minamisoma alone. The Environment ministry has announced, however, that it will attempt to rescue the thousands of pets that were left behind when residents were ordered to evacuate. At least 5,800 dogs were owned by the residents of the zone, although it is unclear how many remain alive, two months later.  

    During outbreaks of “bird” flu in Asian countries, or “swine” flu, flocks of chickens were set on fire and BURNED ALIVE. In Korea, pigs were dumped into pits and BURIED ALIVE. All this, in addition to so-called “humane slaughter.” My guess is that “livestock” victims on family farms as well as on “free-range” operations are equally abandoned, left behind, when their human “owners” evacuate in a disaster, as are the “livestock” victims abandoned, left behind, on factory-farm operations when their human “owners” evacuate in a disaster.

    The “humane treatment” of “livestock” animals in disasters is an oxymoron, since they are valued soley as “property,” not loved as “pets,” who are always rescued first.   The “livestock” “owners” can always collect the insurance on their losses.  For “farm” animals, they might as well come into the world  “dead on arrival.” 

  • Nmplantlady

    I am ALL for animal rescue and assistance!  HOWEVER … if you want to donate to a charity … do some research … MANY do not use your money for the animals (just as if you read below) … it all goes to administrative costs … SO … research BEFORE YOU DONATE!!!

  • Appaloosa1958

    I hope the emergency response continues to get better and more efficient and I can’t wait until I am retired so I can become a full time volunteer!! 

  • Ziajunglist

    If someone wanted to train to be a natural disaster animal rescuer, what process would one follow?

    • Suzen58

      Check with your local animal shelter/rescue groups. Our local shelter is putting on a training here, in conjunction with HSUS and another group, so that we can be trained in disaster rescue for situations likely to occur in our area. 

  • Valerie Ziegler

    Thank God the companion animal safety in natural disasters has improved since past experiences. However, I cannot support the HSUS because of their relationship with michael vick, nfl, eagles, etc. vick is doing NOTHING for animals and collecting a huge salary (& a large following in my area – it is sickening). I can’t stand seeing vick hailed as a hero on our local news when he DID NOT serve his time or fulfill his responsibilities to his victims. The HSUS was quiet about vick’s crime after receiving a large donation from the nfl. Check eagles website – vick is doing nothing and almost every week a new dog fighting ring is found in Phila.Since he’s in town dog fighting has increased in Phila – vick wouldn’t have to travel far to speak out against dog fighting. I emailed the eagles, politely requeseting vick’s schedule of speaking events against animal abuse. eagles responded that they don’t release  that information to the public (huh?). eagles don’t want to flaunt their rehabed hero?  Amazing nfl fans are so stupid. I cannot support HSUS. Best Friends cleaned up vick’s mess without any help vick promised in court. My contributions are sent to Best Friends who, in my mind stand against vick/nfl/eagles.

  • gwen

    i’m amazed & disappointed that you would even suggest that people donate to HSUS or any animal “rights” group.  animal rights and animal welfare are horses of a different color.. shame on you Best Friends.

    • AHS

      What is wrong with animal rights groups?

  • Anonymous

     Another great blog.  Thank goodness things have gotten a lot better since Katrina and will continue to do so during natural disasters.  It was heartbreaking to watch and know what happened to a lot of these animals who were left behind.  It was one of those natural disasters that no one could have predicted that the people would not be allowed to come back to the city until long after the hurricane hit.  It usually takes a tragedy like Katrina to incite changes across the board for better evacuation of humans and animals in a major natural disaster.  I am thankful to Best Friends and all the other wonderful people who went to New Orleans and the other hard-hit areas to help rescue any animals they could.  

  • PB in NC

    Senator Hagan’s office in North Carolina could only point to one shelter in the state that accommodated both pets and people. This was disappointing to me. But individual nonprofits and some public shelters and veterinary hospitals did come through to help animals, at least in Lee County where the Lowes was leveled.

  • Sheila Connelly

    I’ve stayed totally off the radar since raising nearly a million dollars for Disaster Animal Rescue Teams during Katrina.

    I wasn’t an experienced anything, just a woman who cried and puked while watching pets throw themselves off roofs and stairwells in utter desperation.

    I prayed to God to help me find a way to help. I decided to create a mail list of all anchors, reporters and news outlets asking them to post a way to help if they were going to show these news clips. Miraculously, they did. I asked them to direct people to Best Friends and HSUS. When all was said and done, a friend in your Planned Giving Dept estimated the impact.

    On Sunday, I met Wayne Pacelle from HSUS at his book signing event in Sarasota, Florida. We were talking about Katrina and my experience. I was shocked that he even knew who I was. It was the best work I have ever done in my life. That was pre-Facebook and pre-Twitter. Think of what we could do now!

    We need to have a Super Plan in place for natural disasters and the constant need for DARTs in those locations.

    Thanks for all Best Friends continue to do. God Bless.

    • Ty W.

      i second that

    • cindy

      Sheila – you and everyone like you are my heros!! 

    • CambridgeRatMom

       Wayne Pacelle likes Wayne Pacelle best of all. Neither he nor the HSUS has my vote.

  • HSUS gives so little money to actually help animals, most of it goes to lobbyists and to fund campaiigns for laws designed to put farmers out of business, and to salaries and real estate. Less than 1% of donations go to help shelter animals. Give to Best Friends or one of the other groups or a shelter in the disaster area.

    • Linda D White

      Can you back this with facts?

      • Karen

        If you read any of the charity ratings guides, you’ll see that HSUS rates poorly.  The National Charities Info Bureau  consistently grades them “D”.  The ratings take into account quite a few factors including executive pay, fundraising costs, and % spent on programs.  Since #s are easily manipulated (eg, fundraising appeals can also be categorized as “educational” costs), the ratings folks actually look at financial statements to come up with “apples to apples” comparisons.  So while I agree with HSUS’s mission,  i have never donated to them.  Two of my favorite groups, BEST FRIENDS and FARM SANCTUARY, have always been rated A or B+. Its always wise to do research before donating $ to make sure you are giving to an organization that uses its resources effectively and efficiently.

      • Ziajunglist

         It’s all over the internet. Do a little google searching, There are reports of how they spend their money every year. What she’s saying is true.

    • Sheila Connelly

      It is important to read the Mission Statement of the Humane Society of the United States.  Non of us, as individuals, can advocate for animals on a grand scale going up against the politicians and trying to turn them our way.  This is their mission.  It’s a tough one.  Please visit their site and read about their mission.  While we’re at it, we will continue to bless and financially support Best Friends for their all important hands on work.  God bless.

      • Ziajunglist

         The problem is they false advertise where the money is going to. THAT is the problem. They do it consistently do. They mislead the public. They make the public think their money is going straight towards helping actual dogs and instead they spend it on lobbying etc.

        This misled the public by raising money for Faith the dog fighting dog. Kept it all and gave like 1% of it to the dog rescue that actually HAD faith. (I might be saying the name wrong, but it was the black dog with no lips) This is documented all over the dog blogs as well.

        • Suzen58

          I have always donated to HSUS, but there are two separate entities there. HSUS Legislative Fund does do lobbying, and as such, donations to it are not tax deductible. HSUS regular donations don’t go to lobbying. I also of course donate to Best Friends!!! 

          • Toni

            HSLF is the lobbying arm but it represents a small fraction of HSUS’s political activity.  HSUS regular donations DO go to lobbying, legislation and litigation on a grand scale.  

            HSLF has never been able to garner enough supporters or raise enough money to fund HSUS’s legislative initiatives; its merely an adjunct.  Your donations to HSUS  go to activist politics, factory fundraising, PR/media promotion, and damage control for all the scandals.

            Check their tax returns, face reality and make better charity choices.

      • Toni

        HSUS is a 501(c) 3 organization and there are legal limits to how much they can spend on lobbying: ” going up against the politicians”  to try and influence them.  HSUS exceeds those limits by 10,000 miles.  They may deny it, they may cover it up on their tax returns, they may harass and sue those who expose it, they may ask Angry Dopp to spew his venom when people point it ou, but they have been violating the laws on a GRAND scale and will be called to account.

    • Luvssugar

      If they are factory farmers, they need to be put out of business, and they as big corporations have lobbyist, fight fire with fire in the end it is the animals we are fighting for, all animals.

  • Camstrand

    God Bless all who help and care for our beloved animals..

  • Dpiroch

    Thank you so much for advocating! I live in Alabama – have already seen some out there actively soliciting pet help online. But we can always do more.

  • Bob Hull

    As long as animal advocates continue to arduously and diligently strive for changes in attitudes about the importance of animal welfare in disastrous situations, people will eventually see that it is IMPORTANT!!!!

    • Ty W.

      Yes. Thank you to the animal advocates w/these efforts.

  • Kbardsley1

    it broke my heart to see what happened in Japan as well, these are our companions and they deserve our love and compassion. thanks for beign such an advocate and an agent of action.

  • Fuzzy Hearts Rescue

    Katrina helped shape so many Animal rescue clauses, but, In louisiana it remains the same, Animals are not allowed.Hurricane Rita showed the same results, 3 years after Katrina, Hurricane Gustave hit and the fact remained NO ANIMALS ALLOWED. We had animals running everywhere! It is a shame that so many people who have pets are given that ultimatum, we lose human lives in order to save our furry friends There is no quick fix but there should be a fix in every single state. I have worked animal rescue for over 13 years and me and my pets survived Hurricane Katrina and Gustave.

  • Animals are very helpful for human beings. Most of the person having friendship with animals rather than human beings.