Katrina Pet Rescue Efforts Offer Lessons for the Future

Maryann Mott
for National Geographic News
September 21, 2005

For three days after Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf Coast, Bill Harris was trapped in his Slidell, Louisiana, home standing on a chair in five feet (two meters) of water.

In one hand Harris held a two-way radio. In the other he held his beloved cat, Miss Kitty.

For hours Harris desperately called for help on his radio. But when rescue workers finally arrived, the 59-year-old man was forced to leave his cat behind.

"He was taken to a Red Cross shelter and was just beside himself with worry about the cat," said Terri Crisp, director of Noah's Wish, an organization that rescues and shelters animals after disasters.

Harris's story is just one of a host of accounts of distraught pet owners forced to abandon animals they consider part of the family.

In the wake of the hurricane thousands of survivors clinging to their pets were told by emergency workers to leave them behind. Some did, but others refused, choosing to stay with their animals despite dangerous conditions.

Yesterday several animal welfare organizations met with the Congressional Friends of Animals Caucus in Washington, D.C., to discuss the animal rescue effort after Katrina.

The groups hope to use lessons learned from the storm's aftermath to improve the way animals are handled during disaster response efforts.

Joint Effort

Michael Markarian, executive vice president of external affairs for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), says his organization plans to work toward a long-term solution, such as legislation that would require agencies to allow people to evacuate with their pets.

He also argues for a better system of pet-friendly shelters for evacuees so they can take animals with them in a time of crisis.

"For people who have lost everything—their homes, their jobs—it is such a comfort to have their pet with them," Markarian said in a telephone interview with National Geographic News.

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