Hurricane Katrina Hits The Gulf Coast
Chris Graythen  /  Getty Images
A dog waits on the side roof of a house to be rescued Monday after Hurricane Katrina tore though New Orleans.
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updated 9/2/2005 2:02:55 PM ET 2005-09-02T18:02:55

Todd and Andrea Price were in Argentina when Hurricane Katrina struck their home in New Orleans. Worried about their pets, they breathed a sigh of relief when they learned that their pet sitter, Jason Johanson, had loaded up their cats Otis and Roxy, along with his own dog and cats, and headed northwest to Alexandria, La., out of the hurricane’s path.

Many other pets weren’t so lucky. A soaked dog was seen clinging to a rooftop. A woman visiting Canada was frantic about her two cats that were in a basement apartment. And a woman with eight parrots was turned away from the Louisiana Superdome, where people were taking refuge from the flooding.

When disaster strikes, it’s hard to think straight, so having a plan beforehand can save both human and animal lives.

Work out a buddy system
“If you have a pet sitter or someone you trust your animals to be in the care of when you’re not going to be home, talk about what they would do if there were a disaster,” says Terri Crisp, founder and director of Placerville, Calif.-based Noah’s Wish, an animal disaster-response organization. “You don’t want them to load up their car with grandmother’s china and leave without your dog.”

The ASPCA recommends creating a buddy system. Exchange house keys with a trusted neighbor, friend, relative or pet sitter so you can care for each other’s animals in a disaster situation.

If you are home and are ordered to evacuate, take your pets with you. “I tell people just to get in their cars with their animals and start driving,” Crisp says. “You will eventually come across somebody who will help you. But if you leave pets behind and you get down the road a ways and think, ‘You know, that probably wasn’t the best thing to do; I’m going to go back and get the dog,’ they’re not going to let you back in.”

Think through shelter options
Most shelters don’t permit pets, although the Humane Society of the United States reports that a pet-friendly shelter is available at the Coliseum in Jackson, Miss. Even if a shelter doesn’t allow pets, your animals can stay in your car and you can go out to care for them as needed. You may also choose to take refuge at a hotel where pets are permitted.

Have an idea of where you can go with your pets. Johanson took the Prices’ cats to mutual friends in Shreveport, La., where he was able to leave them before continuing on to stay with his family in California. The Prices, who are staying with family in Tulsa, Okla., then drove to Shreveport to reclaim Otis and Roxy.

The ASPCA recommends asking relatives and friends outside your area if they’d be willing to take you and your pets in if you ever need to evacuate. Line up several options if you have multiple pets that could overwhelm a single household.

Become familiar with veterinary hospitals, boarding kennels, animal rescue organizations and pet-friendly hotels outside your area. You might need to shelter your pets with them someday, so keep their 24-hour emergency numbers on hand for quick reference.

That’s how the woman with eight parrots got in touch with Crisp.

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“She called us from the parking lot at the Superdome at about 2 o’clock on Sunday morning,” Crisp says. “She showed up there with her eight parrots because she didn’t know what else to do, and they wouldn’t let her in. Thankfully, she had heard about us, called us, and we were able to scramble really fast and connect her with a bird club. We don’t know for sure what happened to her because we haven’t been able to get a hold of them to find out, but certainly the potential was better than her having to sit in the parking lot that night with her birds.”

Don't fence them in
If your pets are left behind inadvertently or because there’s no alternative, give them a fighting chance by making sure they’re not chained or penned up and that they are wearing identification so they can be reunited with you if found.

Pets at home alone in the event of a disaster will do their best to survive.

NBC weather corresondent Jeff Ranieri reported Wednesday that one family returned to their flooded home to find their dog alive — on top of the refrigerator.

Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning author who has written many articles and more than a dozen books about dogs and cats. She belongs to the Dog Writers Association of America and is past president of the Cat Writers Association. She shares her home in California with three Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and one African ringneck parakeet.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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