One of the most alarming and tragic realities of Hurricane Katrina is that so many people died because they wouldn't leave their pets. Obituary after obituary told similar stories of victims refusing to leave their homes because they had nowhere to go with their beloved animals. Bottom line: No disaster shelters or hotels would take in pets.
Then there was the aftermath of the storm; the thousands of people separated from their pets and more than 50,000 pets abandoned or turned over to animal shelters by overwhelmed hurricane survivors.
Much has changed for the good as far as America's disaster response and pets are concerned in the past five years.
The Humane Society of the United States notes that a "promising set of partnerships, a coordinated approach to historical challenges like animal homelessness and veterinary care, and a stronger commitment to cruelty enforcement are the markers of animal protection’s progress in the [Gulf Coast] region."
Here are some of the accomplishments cited by HSUS, which has been a leader in providing funding and guidance to municipalities and animal welfare groups in Louisiana and Mississippi:
• dozens of shelters have been rebuilt, restored, or improved—many have made tremendous strides to improve their management and staffing;
• tens of thousands of pets have been spayed and neutered;
• both veterinary schools in the Gulf Coast now operate shelter medicine programs and directly support animal care and control agencies by taking students into the field to treat and operate on animals;
• numerous animal care and control entities have standardized their reporting practices to track the course of efforts to reduce animal overpopulation;
• high-volume spaying and neutering facilities have been established in key communities;
• a new animal care facility is set to open at a medium-security prison, to provide emergency and overflow services for animals in a disaster or emergency scenario;
• pioneering campaigns to promote adoption and spaying and neutering have produced unprecedented public awareness of animal overpopulation and the means to end it; and
• a welter of anti-cruelty measures has passed the Louisiana and Mississippi legislatures, breaking historic barriers to success there.
In addition, now federal law now requires that states plan for handling pets in disasters. Signed by President Bush in 2006, the PETS (Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards) act requires all states to present the Federal Emergency Management Agency with pet-evacuation plans before receiving federal funds for emergency preparedness. The law also authorizes FEMA to provide additional money to create pet-friendly shelters and provide special assistance to pet owners.
Meanwhile, 1,400 miles from New Orleans dozens of Katrina's four-legged survivors are still homeless. Forty-one dogs and four cats rescued from the flood waters await forever homes at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. See Fox News video below.