As Hurricane Gustav prepares to set foot on United States soil this week, I am painfully reminded (as are we all) of the devastation and heartbreak left behind by Hurricane Katrina only three years ago. In the early days following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (Katrita), my work on the ground was focused on helping those of the human species whose lives were spared but devastated.
Humans were not the only beings to suffer tragic and enormous loss however. Many pets were left behind in what were considered safe places, their families expecting to be able to return within a day or two. Other animals were simply left behind with the hope they could fend better for themselves if released. As time progressed however, areas behind the National Guard lines remained uninhabitable to man or beast. Not only were there floodwaters and the dangers of unstable debris, but also there were hip deep and throat burning toxic muds. With no clean water, no food, burning chemicals, and serious injuries, these beloved family pets slowly began to die. No one came home, and still, they waited faithfully and loyally to the end.
I felt so devastated by the animal tragedies all around me that I found myself avoiding calls home to my own dear pet and devoted friend Gidget. I felt it necessary to avoid thoughts and feelings about animals and pets.
I cannot begin to tell you the heartbreaking encounters, the pleading eyes from beloved animals too far behind the poisonous lake of muck, and so close to death, I dared not whisper. I cannot begin to tell you about the evidence of violent, not always immediate death by storm. I cannot begin to tell you how gentle and good your animals were during their last moments of life, how hungry they were for food, water, pain relief, love and reassurance. I can only hope that your pet was among one of the many who WERE rescued and is now home safely with you or perhaps lives with a family elsewhere, happy, healthy and well fed.
Our pets do become family; they rely upon us for their safety and well-being. We remove them from their own species and habitats where we become their entire worlds. Gidget tells me about the relationship between man and beast each time she greets me with maddening tail wagging or bows to invite me to play. Our pets deserve all of the safety we can provide them.
FACT: Over 60% of American households include a family pet.
Never again! Let’s prevent the animal tragedies of Hurricane Katrina from ever occurring again. Wherever you live with your pet, consider developing a pet disaster response and evacuation plan.
FACT: Of humans who are safely evacuated, return prematurely to a devastated area and die as a result, the majority went back in to rescue a family pet.
Let’s take them with us! Several organizations have excellent suggestions for disaster planning, pet evacuation, pet safety and ways to stay connected to your pet if you do become separated. No matter where you live, evacuation for some sort of disaster… hurricane, flood, tsunami, fire, toxic spill… may become necessary. Plan ahead. Learn pet first aid. Practice evacuation whenever you bring your pet to the veterinarian.
During times of national disaster, you can help by volunteering or donating to a reputable and effective response effort. At any time, disaster or not, consider becoming a volunteer and donating to your local animal rescue efforts.
The Arctic Chihuahua and I selected some pet safety links posted here for you. Perhaps you will find them useful:
The above links are for starters. If you find another powerful animal disaster safety website, please leave a comment. It’s urgent!
Gidget and Jennifer “>