Gustav Pet Evacuations Show Katrina Lessons Learned

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In New Orleans—a city with 350,000 residents and at least 200,000 pets—evacuations began early Saturday morning for pet owners who didn't have transportation.

Buses picked up New Orleanians at 17 locations around the city and dropped residents off at a processing center near the Louisiana Superdome. There, pet owners were issued wristbands and pet collars that had matching identification numbers.

Larger dogs were loaded into crates and placed in refrigerated vehicles. Smaller animals accompanied their owners on the ten-hour bus trip to a shelter at the state fairgrounds in Shreveport, about 230 miles (370 kilometers) northwest of the Big Easy.

"Throughout the evacuation process, I can't tell you how many people said, The only reason that I'm leaving now is because I can take my animal with me and both of us can be safe," Zorrilla said.

A steady flow of buses and vehicles loaded with cats, dogs, hamsters, snakes, and rabbits began arriving late Saturday night. The procession didn't stop until early Monday morning, just before a slightly weakened Gustav made landfall about 70 miles (113 kilometers) southwest of New Orleans.

Animal-related disaster response teams were on hand to make sure pets would be well cared for.

All of the groups had worked for months after Katrina, helping to save some 6,000 animals left behind in flooded streets and homes.

After Katrina, the American Red Cross had loosened its "no pets" policy and began actively partnering with animal-welfare agencies throughout the country.

For Gustav, the Red Cross set up a shelter across from the Shreveport fairgrounds to provide temporary housing for pet owners.

"It's really been such a relief to know that people were able to leave with their pets and they didn't have to stay behind," says Allison Cardona, ASPCA director of disaster response.

Amy Maher of Noah's Wish, a disaster-response group operating another pet-friendly Red Cross shelter in Covington, Louisiana, added: "Part of our mission is to rescue pets that are left behind. But if you don't have to leave them behind, that makes everyone a lot safer, healthier, and happier."

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