Hurricane Animal Rescue Updates

New Orleans:
In the past three days, rescuers at the Lamar-Dixon facility have pulled nearly 700 animals out of the New Orleans area.

The state of Louisiana ruled on Wednesday that routine animal rescues must end at Lamar-Dixon on September 30. But that’s not the end of animal rescues in New Orleans. The state also said that Lamar-Dixon could rescue critically injured or ill animals after that date.

The Louisiana SPCA, whose building was destroyed by Katrina, is set to open a new operation in Algiers on the east side of the Mississippi River. The group will continue to conduct animal rescues in New Orleans from this staging area. The HSUS and other credentialed groups will continue to assist LA SPCA.

Release by Carrie Allan and Tim Carman
New Orleans, for reasons both legitimate and arbitrary, has received the lion’s share of the media attention following Katrina’s landfall in late August.

The Crescent City is just one location among dozens affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The HSUS, in cooperation with the state and other animal organizations, manages a rescue and sheltering operation in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, through which more than 2,000 animals have passed, including more than a 100 pets who have already been reunited with their owners. These animals somehow survived Katrina’s eastern wallop, which brought with it far more than floodwater; it brought a 20-foot storm surge that literally flattened some towns, turning entire city blocks into checkerboards of concrete foundations.

Likely because there were fewer animal survivors in the Mississippi region—or just fewer people and pets in the region to begin with—emergency rescue and sheltering operations are starting to wind down. The temporary Hattiesburg facility expects to shut down next week, and local animal control officers will take over all remaining rescue and sheltering needs in the affected areas.

In the meantime, disaster responders along the Louisiana-Texas border are still working to assess the damage that Rita wrought. As with Katrina, responders have been frustrated following Rita by a lack of access to certain areas, downed trees and power lines, and poor communications. It could be a few more days before responders in Texas and Louisiana get a full picture of the storm’s impact on animals.

The Preliminary Report on Rita
The animal imagery has been gripping in the wake of Hurricane Rita: alligators swimming outside the boundaries of wildlife refuges; cowboys herding cattle through chest-deep water, residents ferrying their own pets to safety in small rowboats. Yet despite the grim images, the bigger picture is more hopeful: Animals appear to have weathered Rita with fewer casualties, and with fewer problems, than they suffered from Katrina.

Residents, emergency planners, and elected officials all learned the lessons of the Category 4 storm that shook the Gulf Coast in late August. This time when people evacuated in advance of the storm, they took their animals with them—with the blessing of state and local officials, who promised shelters that would accept the pets.

The Texas Animal Health Commission estimates that 20,000 pets were evacuated before Rita made landfall on Saturday, September 24. About 13,000 of these companion animals were sheltered by, or with, their owners. The remainder were held by shelters located in Bryan-College Station, Dallas, Austin, and other areas. An estimated 10,000 livestock, most horses, were also evacuated. (No numbers were available for Louisiana.)

It’s too early to tell how animals fared in the hardest hit counties in Texas and Louisiana. The Houston SPCA, which is leading the animal rescue and relief efforts along the Texas-Louisiana border, is reportedly conducting rescues and assessments in Chambers, Liberty, Jefferson, Hardin, Orange, and Newton counties in Texas.

The Houston shelter, which sustained minimal damage in the storm, has already evacuated 57 dogs and 28 cats from the Humane Society of Southeast Texas in the hard-hit Beaumont area, and has established a staging area just outside the East Texas town. Rescuers from all over the country are making their way to the area to assist the Houston SPCA with rescues.

The HSUS, along with staffers from the ASPCA and the United Animal Nations, are currently assisting the Texas Animal Control Association with its temporary shelter in Nacogdoches, where about 300 owned pets rode out the storm. Unfortunately for these pets—not to mention their owners who can’t yet return to their homes (or the sites of their former homes)—the animals cannot stay in their temporary shelter. The expo center in Nacogdoches is contracted to host a fair, so the animals must move.

Guyton and Jay Sabbatucci, the regional coordinator in The HSUS’s Southwest Regional Office, have already secured a new location for the animals: another expo center, this one in Lufkin. The animals will begin their 30-mile migration on Wednesday, September 28.

The jury is still out in Jasper, the East Texas town that took a direct hit from Rita. Officials from TACA have not been able to access the area to determine the extent of the storm’s impact on animals and livestock. Guyton predicts a report from the area in a day or two.

The reports are even more sketchy from Louisiana. An initial HSUS assessment team on Sunday found animals roaming the streets in the Lake Charles area. They were likely owned pets, since the shelter in Lake Charles had evacuated its animals to three different sites in the state. The shelter, which survived the storm, will have to wait until Friday, September 30, to bring back its animals. That’s when officials are expected to turn the power back on.

On Wednesday, September 28, The HSUS send a pair of responders down to St. Charles to help a wildlife rehabilitator rescue nearly 50 animals, including one loose otter, a 23-year-old horse with cancer, a blind bobcat (and his friend, a raccoon), and 12 sugar gliders. The animals all apparently have a place to go where they can continue their rehab.

In Calcasieu and Cameron parishes, there are also some preliminary reports that animals are running loose, but the state has not issued any official assessments yet. The only hint of trouble in Louisiana comes in the form of rescue requests submitted to Guyton said on Tuesday that the web site had 23 official requests for rescues since Rita hit, only eight from Texas. That could mean more trouble ahead for Louisiana pets.

To report a lost pet or to report an animal left behind, the public can call the Houston SPCA at (713) 802-0555 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Central time. Beginning on Thursday, September 29, the public can call the Houston SPCA’s free hotline: 1-866-481-7722. They can also log on to

Wrapping Up and Moving On in Mississippi
Nearly a month after Hurricane Katrina wiped out towns along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, residents can finally go home again. More accurately, they can go back to where their homes once stood: All the areas along the coast, many of which had been closed off to the public as various emergency crews worked to clear roads and make travel safer, have been reopened to the public. But for many, all that’s left are piles of debris—and some of those piles got a little bigger when Rita’s glancing blow struck last week.

Recovery has been slow for the animal shelters that operated in these areas, but several are now back at work. The Jackson County Animal Shelter in Gautier, which The HSUS was using for one of its pet food distribution and rescue sites, is operating under its own steam. The shelter’s power is back on—though phones are still iffy—and they’re able to take in and adopt out animals.

The Humane Society of South Mississippi in Gulfport is working partly from its old, formerly flooded facility and partly from its new, half-finished building. The group is sending out adoptable animals to other groups, and is working to get back on its feet, a task The HSUS plans to help finance with a $55,000 grant.

Animal care and control in Hancock County, home to the devastated city of Waveland, is still an issue. Animal control officers had hoped to work from their old flooded building once it had been cleaned out and dried off, but representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have condemned it. Laura Bevan, incident commander at the Hattiesburg facility, is working with local representatives to find an alternate location for a shelter.

“A lot of the veterinary clinics here don’t know whether there’ll be the population to sustain business anymore,” Bevan says, “and a lot of them are closing down. We’re hoping that we might be able to find a veterinary clinic or a boarding kennel that might serve as a temporary facility for animal control.”

At the Hattiesburg facility, response teams have rescued, taken in, and sheltered more than 2,300 animals. More than 100 have been reunited with their owners at Hattiesburg, and another 24 at a Waveland satellite facility, but many are still waiting. For those owners still searching for pets,

Mississippi teams have created photo albums of unclaimed animals, which they have distributed to the Jackson County shelter in Gautier and to the temporary facility of the Humane Society of South Mississippi in Gulfport. Since there is not yet a viable shelter in Waveland, teams have also placed photo albums at Red Cross and FEMA staging areas, so that evacuees can comb through the pictures to locate their missing pets.

The reality, of course, is that many of those pets will never go home with the families they knew. In some cases, the owners are dead; in others, they simply no longer have the resources to care for their pets.

That was the case for Geri Bleau, who evacuated from Waveland with her husband and their two dogs, a Great Pyrenees and black Lab. She and her husband and their dogs were safe during the storm, but returned to find their home destroyed. The businesses where they worked were gone, too.

Since the disaster, Bleau and her husband have been living alternately in a tent and a trailer, and she’s been cooking meals for the emergency crew onsite in Waveland. But the couple no longer has a home or a car, and she’s made the compassionate decision: Give up her dogs. It was a hard decision for Bleau, but also a hopeful one: The dogs are going into foster care.

The two pooches were transported from the Hattiesburg facility to the Humane Society of Missouri, and from there to a temporary home, and Bleau hoped that she would be able to reclaim them at some point in the future. But when HSUS teams went to Waveland to pick up the animals, Bleau told Bevan that she couldn’t bear to watch the dogs leave. She didn’t know whether she would ever see them again.

Bittersweet endings are the way of this changed world. While there have already been many happy reunions at the Mississippi rescue sites, 760 animals at the Hattiesburg facility have now been transported to other shelters and rescue groups for adoption or foster care. Many may still be reunited with their old families. But others will find homes in brand new climes, Katrina’s unfortunate orphans seeking uncertain fortunes in New York, Missouri, and other places, where a bevy of partnering organizations will be searching for adopters prepared to give these hard-luck cats and dogs a shot at new comforts and joys.

Mississippi Resources
If you are a resident of Mississippi whose pet was lost during the hurricanes, and you’re searching for your animal, there are two places you should start: All the animals who came into the Hattiesburg site have been photographed and microchipped, and the photographs have been uploaded onto Petfinder. You can search by zip code, species, breed, and a number of other characteristics to bring up the photographs of found/rescued pets.

The Forrest County Multipurpose Center in Hattiesburg. The HSUS temporary shelter is still open, and you can look for your pet in person—the best way to make sure you’re seeing your old friend and not a lookalike.

Keep in mind: Many of the pets who were at this shelter have been transported elsewhere for care and housing. But The HSUS and the ASPCA are establishing a reunion fund to help pay the cost of sending your pet home to you.

Update Thursday, September 29, 2005
After spending yesterday in the heat going to house after house to rescue animals, American Humane’s teams drove 200 miles to Lake Charles in response to requests from the Louisiana State Veterinarian. The state vet identified this community as having a high need for our services. It currently is without power, and a shelter has been set up.

We’ll stay on Lake Charles to continue animal rescues and assist with the shelter needs in the area. This morning our teams immediately began assessing damage, which hadn’t been done since Hurricane Katrina struck because the area is so remote. Fortunately, we have a helicopter so we’ll be able to cover a lot of ground and best determine where to further deploy. The days continue to be hot and humid. Our teams are in pretty good spirits, but are feeling a little fatigued. Most of our folks have been here since day one, and find themselves torn between the need to rescue animals and the need to tend to their day-to-day lives of family, work, and demands back at home. But, determined, they continue to put their best efforts into making sure as many animals as possible are rescued and reunited with their families..

28 September 2005
At the team’s first house today, Responder Katie crawled through a window into the bathroom and landed in a bathtub full of muddy, moldy clothes. Once inside, she let the rest of her team through the door, and they began their search for animal occupants. Before long, the team found itself crammed in the bathroom again as the cat and dog they were searching for fled and took cover under the claw-footed tub that Katie had just crawled into.

The animals were startled by the group of strangers in their house, and the situation was complicated by the fact that the two didn’t appear to get along with each other. The team in the bathroom could hear the cat and dog hissing and growling and grumbling at each other from inside their hiding place. Our team needed to act quickly to get at least one of the animals out before the situation escalated, so team leader Mark sent the other Responders outside and closed himself in the bathroom. With slightly more room to maneuver, he was able to lift the tub enough to get a leash on the dog and hand it through the door to the responders waiting outside. The cat was not eager to be captured, but without the dog adding to the stress, Mark was able to get the cat in a crate, and both animals were taken safely from the house.

As the team conducted their next search, they were startled by what looked like a dead Chihuahua on the bed, but as they moved closer, they realized its wide eyes were tracking their movements. The animal had probably been startled from a nap and was scoping out the newcomers, frozen in fear. As soon as Mark picked the dog up, however, she began to move and respond and ended up being fairly healthy.

On the last stop of the day, on their way back to the staging area, the team only had time for one more stop and was overjoyed that they did. They discovered an emaciated hound dog that was severely dehydrated, but stable. They hooked him up to fluids and, by the time they got him to the vet, he was already doing better.

MONROE, LOUISIANA: Early this morning, 85 dogs arrived at UAN’s Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) shelter in Monroe, Louisiana. These animals were transferred from the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, which has been serving as the main staging area for animals being rescued from New Orleans and is operating at capacity. They joined the 134 animals who had been transferred from Lamar-Dixon last week. Many of these animals are emaciated and suffering from chemical burns and other injuries that require significant care. EARS volunteers have already reunited several of the dogs with their owners and continue to search for other owners. There are currently more than 50 EARS volunteers assisting in Monroe, including three veterinarians. The heat and humidity, combined with the needs of the animals in our care, are making this an arduous effort.

LUFKIN, TEXAS: EARS is helping at the Texas Animal Control Association’s emergency animal shelter, which is still housing 100 animals who were evacuated before Hurricane Rita struck. Many owners picked up their animals as they returned home, but we expect to begin receiving rescued animals within the next few days. The shelter was moved from Nacogdoches to Lufkin yesterday and rescue efforts in affected counties will begin tomorrow. We are actively deploying volunteers to assist at this location.

JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI: On Wednesday, EARS closed the pet-friendly shelter here, which was initially opened prior to Hurricane Katrina.

Volunteers traveling to the shelters must have their tetanus shots and are strongly advised to have their hepatitis shots.

UAN encourages all families who are missing pets or still have pets in need of rescue to visit’s Animal Emergency Response Network. Rescue teams and shelter operators are posting photos of rescued and found animals in a searchable database on this site. It is the sincerest hope of all involved with this relief effort that as many families that can be reunited are. The last thing any hurricane victims need is the trauma of losing their companions.

The temporary animal evacuation shelter in Slidell, Louisiana came through Hurricane Rita just fine. There was no need to evacuate the animals. Extra precautions were taken on Thursday and Friday to ensure the animals and the volunteers would be safe. Rescue teams were dispatched yesterday morning to look for any stranded animals and none were found. This is due in part to the thorough job Slidell Animal Control and our volunteers have done of rescuing animals since September 1. We will continue to respond to rescues if the weather causes any problems in the days ahead.

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