Thursday, September 25, 2008

One New Orleans shelter worker speaks out

With the exception of animal rescuers, most people outside of New Orleans don’t know about the controversy that swirled around reunions between pets and owners following the wake of destruction left behind by hurricane Katrina.

People were scattered into shelters without computers, cars, and in many cases, cash. Finding their pets was next to impossible. As the months rolled by, rescued animals were displaced, traveling to more than 1,000 shelters across the country, most without identification. Even those with collars weren’t necessarily tracked back to home. The numbers only led to flooded houses with no power, water or working telephones.

People in cities around the United States and Canada lined up to adopt Katrina pets, who were considered lost orphans of the storm. But in most cases, they were loved family members that their guardians hadn’t forgotten. Months later, many wanted their animals back. Their new owners were reluctant to part with pets they had grown attached to. Lawsuits were launched, and people argued their emotional rights to claim their property.

For Shelly Patton, webmaster and building manager of Louisiana SPCA, reunions witnessed after Katrina were bittersweet, in contrast to the reunions that occurred after pets were allowed to accompany their people when hurricane Gustav rolled into the city. Patton sums it up best.

“Katrina was surrounded by such loss,” Patton says. “Reunions were few and far between in relation to how many animals were saved. The reunions with Katrina were often counterbalanced – the foster's sorrow of giving the pet back by the owner's joy of reuniting. For me the whole experience with Katrina reunions was clouded by the massive loss. I couldn't seem to just enjoy the moment knowing that for each one reunited, there were hundreds still looking, hundreds who would never find. Gustav reunions were different. Owner after owner walked through the shelter doors to reclaim their pet. After being separated from their people, the animals were stressed. The owners were stressed after the ordeal they had gone through with their own evacuation. It was exciting to see the two lock eyes and realize they were together again. The visible difference in both their demeanors was in such stark contrast to the moments before. It was awesome! It was love reunited. It was the way it should be. It was the way I wish Katrina had been.”

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