Tragedy and Triumph – Five Years After Katrina
Every year around this time I receive calls and emails from individuals I worked alongside or families I reunited in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Although it has been five years, the bonds that were cemented during our rescue work in New Orleans will last a lifetime. We will never forget the horrors we witnessed there, and the thousands of animals we pulled from the wreckage of the submerged crescent city. I can scarcely believe half a decade has passed since I stepped into the worst natural disaster our country has ever known.
At that time I was the Executive Director of the Washington Animal Rescue League. As soon as Katrina hit the Gulf Coast I assembled a rescue team, and was one of the first responders on the ground. I knew we were entering uncharted territory when we passed the first city checkpoint and a crowd of desperate-looking people charged our vehicle and threw their keys through our open windows. The keys were wrapped in paper with the people’s names, telephone numbers, addresses and the description of the animals who were trapped in their homes. When I saw the horde of individuals on their knees, tears streaming down their faces, begging us to rescue their animals, I knew this mission would change my life forever.
During our six weeks in New Orleans our team rescued nearly 1,000 animals who had lost all hope of surviving the grim disaster. We scaled dilapidated buildings to pluck emaciated animals from rooftops, pulled cats out of putrid, debris-laden waters and found dogs who had been left to die, stranded for weeks in flooded homes. Each rescue was unique, but every animal shared an initial look of wild desperation, which melted into trust and gratitude once we held them tightly in our arms of compassion.
Our team was the first inside these houses for days or weeks after the storm. We were the only lifeline for people clinging to the hope that their companions would be found alive. It was heartbreaking to tell someone who had lost everything that their cherished friend didn’t make it, but an honor to deliver the news to others that their animals had survived.
As soon as we plucked one animal from death’s door we were off to respond to another plea for help. The calls never stopped, our rescue vehicles seemed constantly full, as we perpetually raced the clock in a desperate fight against time. Inevitably, we were too late to save some – it is these lost souls who push me on a daily basis to continue my life’s work.
In the five years since, animal guardians have made huge strides in efforts to include pets in disaster preparedness. President Bush signed the PETS Act into law in 2006, allowing communities to receive funds for including companion animals in disaster preparedness plans. Communities and individuals are much better prepared to ensure their pets’ safety in the wake of nature’s unpredictable fury.
IDA played a crucial role in the post-Katrina response efforts. We delivered supplies to Gulf Coast emergency shelters and transported hundreds of displaced animals to shelters in the north. Today IDA’s rescue team is poised and ready to save animals from both man-made and natural catastrophes. Click here to support our life-saving efforts.