Gustav Pet Evacuations Show Katrina Lessons Learned

Maryann Mott
for National Geographic News
September 2, 2008

It's not just the human evacuation that went much smoother this time.

Thousands of pets accompanied the estimated two million people who fled inland from the U.S. Gulf Coast this past weekend as Hurricane Gustav hurtled toward the region.

On August 31, Gustav moved into the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 3 hurricane, raising fears of a repeat of the devastation caused three years ago by Hurricane Katrina and prompting evacuation orders for much of the Gulf Coast.

About 160 climate-controlled vehicles operated around the clock in New Orleans to whisk pets and their owners out of harm's way. At least a half dozen emergency shelters throughout the state quickly filled with pets of all shapes and sizes.

"This is the first time in history that pets have been a priority in an evacuation," said Ana Zorrilla, CEO of the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (LA-SPCA), based in New Orleans.

Now that the danger from Gustav has passed, pets from New Orleans will be sent from a huge shelter at the Shreveport, Louisiana, fairgrounds back into the LA-SPCA facility, where the animals will be housed until owners retrieve them.

Meanwhile, a team from the LA-SPCA is heading from Shreveport into New Orleans today to stock up on needed food, supplies, and backup generators, Zorrilla said.

The shelter's stray animals were evacuated last week to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Dallas, Texas. Zorrilla hopes to bring back those animals next week and resume normal operations.

Meet Me at the Fair

The preparations for Gustav stand in sharp contrast to the situation during Hurricane Katrina.

In that storm's aftermath, animals hadn't been allowed on buses or rescue boats, forcing some people to choose between staying with their pets and hopping a ride to safety. (See photos of pets affected by Katrina.)

Since then government officials, emergency workers, and animal-welfare groups say they've worked hard to put disaster plans into place to help both people and animals.

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