for National Geographic News
In the initial aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the welfare of Gulf Coast pets took a back seat to human safety.
But on September 2 members of one of the largest grassroots animal-rescue efforts in U.S. history started arriving on the scene to save the storm's animal victims.
The campaign is a joint effort between the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), as well as dozens of local organizations and thousands of volunteers from across the country.
"There was some squabbling between the groups at first as to who should do what," said Diane Alberts, president of the Florida Association of Kennel Clubs. The association is lending supplies, workers, and perspective from its experience with pet rescue after Hurricane Andrew blasted southern Florida in 1992.
"But now everyone is working as one extremely impressive group," she said.
Efforts are spread throughout the hurricane-ravaged areas of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. Some of the most compelling tales, however, are taking place in the flooded city of New Orleans.
So far more than 1,500 of the city's animals have been rescued and treated by veterinarians, said Andrew Rowan, executive vice president for the HSUS. But thousands more remain, he said, and the days left before they starve or die from dehydration are numbered.
Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in nearby Gonzales, Louisiana, has been serving as a base of operations for the rescue effort and as a makeshift animal shelter, according to Renee Bafalis, an HSUS rescue worker in New Orleans.
Typically used for 4-H events and rodeos, the center's nearly 1,000 horse stalls make it the perfect refuge for rescued pets, Bafalis says. But Lamar-Dixon has already reached full capacity for comfortably holding animals, said Laura Maloney, executive director of the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).
Maloney, who is the head coordinator for all animal-rescue efforts in New Orleans, says the rescue team is now searching for nearby facilities that can temporarily hold animals.
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