hurricane katrina and the "rescue efforts" have truly been an eye-opener. i have watched news footage and followed the media coverage online for over a week now, and i am continually amazed by what i am seeing and hearing. the whole thing is a disaster of epic proportions, from the hurricane itself, to the aftermath, to the clusterfuck that is our government attempting to fix everything. my heart goes out to everyone in katrina’s wake. if i watch too much of the news, i cry, every time.
one of the earliest stories my ears perked up for was a cnn.com video clip about pets and the hurricane. the reporter was interviewing a woman from noah’s wish, who talked about people being forced to evacuate new orleans ahead of the hurricane. many people were leaving their companion animals behind, and many others were trying to stay and weather the storm so that they could remain with their beloved pets. it was a brief interview, but it was heartbreaking. the woman pleaded with people to think of their pets’ well-being; to arrange for their care in some way, or (as a very last resort), to turn them loose so that they would have a shot at getting away on their own. she mentioned that just before she sat down for the interview, they had received a report of a family who had left their dogs behind in airline crates on top of the washer and dryer. my heart just sank when i heard that–they trapped their dogs to drown.
ingrid newkirk discussed similar examples on her blog:
One of our own staff has a relative in New Orleans who carefully locked her two cats inside a first floor bathroom when she evacuated, thinking she would be back in a day or two. Her neighborhood is Atlantis now, the cats are dead and she is catatonic. Dogs were left behind, still attached to their miserable chains in backyards, where they could only swim in place until they died of exhaustion as the waters rise. Rabbits drowned slowly and in panic as the waters rose in their hutches. Many people didn’t stop to think that animals behind the locked doors and windows of evacuated houses had no way of getting out. They were not even allowed a fighting chance at escape.
as the hurricane made landfall and the floodwaters began to rise, my heart went out to all the people and animals trapped in their homes. for days, everyone waited. no one came. then the stories started to surface: as people were finally being evacuated after the storm, all were asked to leave their pets behind. one of the earliest stories that received wide release (via the associated press) was the sad fate of snowball, a little boy’s beloved dog:
Pets were not allowed on the bus, and when a police officer confiscated a little boy’s dog, the child cried until he vomited. "Snowball, Snowball," he cried. The policeman told a reporter he didn’t know what would happen to the dog.
snowball has received the most press, but there are many, many, many more animals just like him, left behind to fend for themselves. hundreds (maybe thousands?) of people have refused to evacuate because they won’t leave their pets behind. i saw a picture on the main page of cnn.com yesterday showing a white house with the words "NOT LEAVING. DOGS." spray-painted in red on the side. an excerpt from another news story:
The howls and yelps and barks that pierce the eerie silence of the New Orleans night torture James Lalande as he stirs in his bed.
The abandoned pets are the reason Lalande can’t sleep, and the reason he won’t leave his city.
New Orleans residents abandoned thousands of pets in their hasty retreat, leaving many to fend for themselves in the ghostly streets, with others locked in houses and apartments or tied up in yards, according to local animal specialists.
All over the city, animals face a horrible fate. The locked-up pets are starving. In the famed New Orleans aquarium, more than a third of the 4,000 fish have died because there’s no power to pump oxygen into the tanks. In the zoo, a skeleton staff of 12 is struggling to feed and get water to 1,400 hungry and thirsty animals with limited emergency provisions.
"It’s just overwhelming," said Laura Maloney, the executive director of the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "There are countless thousands of abandoned pets in the city. And hundreds and hundreds are stuck inside their homes."
other people, feeling forced to evacuate (due to immediate medical needs) but terrified for what might happen to their animals, chose another route (as reported on cnn.com):
At the hospital, a doctor euthanized some animals at the request of their owners, who feared they would be abandoned and starve to death. He set up a small gas chamber out of a plastic-wrapped dog kennel.
"The bigger dogs were fighting it. Fighting the gas. It took them longer. When I saw that, I said, ‘I can’t do it,’ " said Bennett’s husband, Lorne.
Valerie Bennett left her dogs with the anesthesiologist, who promised to care for about 30 staff members’ pets on the roof of the hospital, Lindy Boggs Medical Center.
"He said he’d stay there as long as he possibly could," Valerie Bennett recalled, speaking from her husband’s bedside at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital.
as with the red cross, many of the animal organizations who had mobilized and were dying to help were simply not allowed into new orleans. and as with the red cross, the entire situation was and is infuriating for all parties involved. from an article on cnn.com:
The fate of pets is a huge but underappreciated cause of anguish for storm survivors, said Richard Garfield, professor of international clinical nursing at New York’s Columbia University.
"People in shelters are worried about ‘Did Fluffy get out?’ " he said. "It’s very distressing for people, wondering if their pets are isolated or starving."
the picture above is of one such dog who was apparently left behind. he is stuck in a tree, waiting for help. he’s the brown spot–if you click on the picture you will be able to see a larger version. there are so many pictures like these; it’s haunting.
the whole thing is a nightmare. in recent days the plight of the animals has gotten a bit more press (i believe due to the terribly sad images invoked by the snowball story), and some progress is being made, but as with the people trapped in new orleans, there is a long way to go.
noah’s wish and the humane society of the united states are both taking donations to help with rescue efforts. they need money for food, gasoline, supplies, and the like, so please consider helping them out if you have the means. i know that everyone feels helpless, and everyone has probably already dug in their pockets (perhaps several times!), but if you can do even a little bit more, both of these causes are truly worth it.