IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Rescue teams leave food and water for pets

Rescuers trying frantically to save animals left behind when people fled Hurricane Katrina have given up on collecting pets and begun simply leaving food and water for them.
/ Source: Reuters

Rescuers trying frantically to save animals left behind when people fled Hurricane Katrina have given up on collecting pets and begun simply leaving food and water for them.

Teams from as far afield as Los Angeles and San Diego are traveling around the New Orleans area, wading into flooded areas and checking abandoned neighborhoods to find animals that could not accompany their rescued owners.

“It’s very dire,” said Kim Noetzel, marketing director of the Arizona Humane Society, which is trying to help coordinate efforts.

There are now more than 4,000 pets in a temporary shelter in nearby Gonzales, La., and there is nowhere left to take rescued animals. “It is packed to the gills,” Noetzel said in a telephone interview.

“We are not bringing any animals in. We are just going in there and making sure they have food and water,” said Tony Valenzuela of the Arizona Human Society.

Neglected and abused
Valenzuela has taken over command of a temporary pet rescue headquarters at a Salvation Army store on the New Orleans city border.

There, a thin dog lies listlessly in the shade, her spine poking through her scabby brown hide. The Arizona group is taking her with them, along with a few other scrawny dogs.

“This is what we are finding now,” said Valenzuela. “These are animals that were neglected and abused before. If this was a normal situation, we’d have a lot of animal abuse prosecutions.”

The teams were able to get into badly flooded St. Bernard parish this week for the first time and found many animals had drowned.

Leaving hearts behind
At home after home, dogs had been left tied up, only to drown slowly as the waters rose and their ropes or chains stretched to the limit.

“It’s horrific. They told us before we left to leave our hearts behind,” Valenzuela said.

Many people heeded mandatory evacuation order for the New Orleans area before Katrina hit but left pets with food and water, expecting to come back after a day or two. They have been gone since the end of August and pets have been locked into houses with no power, no air conditioning, with temperatures above 90 degrees F daily.

Pet owners were trying desperately to get to their animals or organize a rescue. Some evacuees found neighbors to return and check on their animals, while others posted pleas on Web sites such as

Others urged volunteers to come to the Gulf region on their own, warning they may be forced to sleep in their cars because of a lack of housing.

Even at the designated shelters, there is a lack of steady coordination. “It’s mass confusion. One day one person is in charge, another day someone else is there,” Valenzuela said. "We are doing the best we can."

Some people managed to bring their pets along when they fled. Some hospitals, for instance, set up ad hoc kennels.

“It helps the staff concentrate on the patients when they know their pets are safe,” said Valerie Englade, a spokeswoman for East Jefferson General Hospital.

Animals spooked and afraid
But even the animals who are being helped by friends or neighbors are spooked.

Disaster medical experts at West Jefferson Medical Center treated a four-year-old boy attacked by a dog in the southern suburb of Gretna.

“We’ve been taking care of the dogs in our neighborhood for 10 to 12 days now,” explained the boy’s father. One stray tagged along. “He was waving a stick and he swung the stick at the dog.”

The boy has a large cut on his chest and another on his thumb.

“It wasn’t a mean dog,” said the father, who could not be identified for medical privacy reasons.

“The animals down here are totally traumatized,” said Dr. John Twomey, chief medical officer at the disaster clinic. "Even their own dogs and cats are turning on people."