NEW ORLEANS–All animals rescued from the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita became eligible for adoption on December 15, 2005, following the expiration of the last mandatory holding periods prescribed by the Louisiana and Mississippi state veterinarians.
“We’re setting up two new rescue centers, in New Orleans and Gulfport,” Best Friends Animal Society president Michael Mountain told supporters. “Rescue teams will be bringing animals there for an official 5-day holding period in case the pets still have a local family. After that, we’ll be driving or flying them to carefully chosen shelters around the country to be placed in good new loving homes.
“Best Friends is functioning as the lead agency in this effort,” Mountain continued. “The Humane Society of the United States, the American SPCA, and United Animal Nations are helping to fund the rescue centers. UAN is also providing volunteer support.
The American Humane Association has offered their emergency rescue truck to do sterilizations if needed. The Helen Woodward Animal Center will be bringing many of the rescued pets into their nationwide ‘Home for the Holidays’ adoption drive,” Mountain added.
Petfinder.com Foundation founder Betsy Saul announced $460,000 in grants to the continuing rescue effort. “The amounts range from $300 to $50,000 and the Foundation expects to distribute even more,” to help humane societies in the hurricane zone to rebuild, Saul said.
The expiration of mandatory holding meant that rescued animals could be sterilized without risk of liability to the organizations holding them if they were claimed.
In some cases the end of the holding period meant that dogs believed to be dangerous would be euthanized. The Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society accepted 41 dogs from the Gulf region after the hurricanes, director Duane Adams told Anne Constable of the
Santa Fe New Mexican. Six were returned to their people, six were adopted, two were placing in foster care, one was transferred to another organization, nine were euthanized earlier, and of the 17 dogs left at the shelter, half had serious behavioral issues, Adams said.
The expiration of long in-state holding periods also intensified friction developing since mid-October between the Louisiana SPCA and outside rescuers. Photos of most rescued animals have been posted at Petfinder.com, but many displaced New Orleans residents whose pets are missing are not computer-savvy, Louisiana SPCA executive director Laura Maloney said, and have no access to web sites. The farther animals are taken from New Orleans, Maloney pointed out, the slimmer are the chances that they will be found by their people.
Further, Maloney has often mentioned since October that the many New Orleans residents who are trickling back into the formerly evacuated city to clean and repair their damaged homes are often bringing pets back with them. This has resulted in reports of pets being “rescued” from porches, yards, and even inside homes where they were being looked after.
How many animals might remain at large in need of rescue remains a point of dispute between Maloney and outside rescuers, as well.
Contrary to rumor, Maloney said, “We completed the entire 7,000 entries in our request-to-rescue data base” of animals left behind in houses. Duplicate listings of animals reported multiple times and reports of animals seen at large swelled some versions of the data base used by other rescue groups to more than 13,000 entries.
The Louisiana SPCA in mid-November led a two-day census of animals at large in New Orleans, involving representatives of nine organizations. Data analysis by ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton indicated that there might be as many as 10,800 cats and dogs roaming the city, about 40% of the estimated New Orleans feral cat and stray dog population before Katrina. Some rescue groups projected from the same data that the numbers of cats and dogs still loose in New Orleans might be as high as 100,000–which would be about 40% of the entire pre-Katrina cat and dog population of the city.
Regardless of the New Orleans situation, Best Friends director of operations Paul Berry, development director Stephen Hirano, behaviorist Sherry Woodard, media relations manager Barbara Williamson, and field rescue coordinator Ethan Gurney in mid-November reported “many thousands of former pets” at large in Jefferson Parish, St. Bernard Parish, and Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, along with Jackson, Hancock, and Harrison counties in Mississippi.
Reunions still occurring
Reunions of pets and families are still occurring, often with difficulty. Joe, Mark, and Deborah Laustalot told Jill Nolin of the Dothan Eagle that they recovered their chow mix Gigi, with the help of Petfinder, only after pursuing the dog through a series of transfers among rescue groups.
Mary Marino, 46, entrusted her cats Mia and Coco to animal welfare volunteers before being evacuated from New Orleans by helicopter on September 2. Coco turned up soon afterward at the temporary shelter operated by Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Searching web sites, Animal Rescue League of El Paso volunteer LeWanna Lincoln finally found Mia at the Marin Humane Society in California. Marino and Mia were reunited on December 1, recounted Daniel Borunda and Tammy Fonce-Olivas of the El Paso Times.
The Humane Society of Kent County, Michigan, in mid-December sent a dog named Dingo home to nurse Sonya Hardy, 46, of New Orleans. Evacuated by the U.S. Army on September 1, Hardy found Dingo on Petharbor.com on December 5. Humane Society of Kent County director Karen Terpstra told Ed White of the Grand Rapids Press that of about 150 animals the organization received from Louisiana and Mississippi, the families of 35 had been located.
PETA told Associated Press that it found the families of five of 30 animals it took from New Orleans to the PETA headquarters in Norfolk.
Dorothy Davies of the Sanctuary & Safe Haven for Animals in Manchester, Michigan, told Liz Cobb of the Ann Arbor News that SASHA had returned just four of 50 dogs it accepted to their people.
WorldHeart Foundation founder Linda Blair, star of the 1973 film The Exorcist, in mid-November achieved one of the most publicized reunions when she returned a pit bull terrier named Carmine to New Orleans evacuee Paula Messick in Houston. That left Blair with another 49 dogs from the Lamar-Dixon rescue center still to rehome.
“After two weeks at Lamar Dixon and in New Orleans doing search and rescue, we returned with nearly two dozen reptiles,” said TortoiseAid International director Annie Lancaster of Apple Valley, California. All but seven were returned to their keepers by the end of November, Lancaster reported, after finding the family of Beelzibub the Ball Python in Florida.
A current concern of rescuers is removing lost and feral animals from wreckage being bulldozed.
The Humane Society of South Mississippi in Gulfport on December 11 issued an appeal for “barn owners to provide homes for the feral cats” coming out of such situations. “All feral cats will be vaccinated and sterilized before being released to the barn owners,” the humane society pledged.
Alley Cat Allies reported picking up 50 cats on just their first day of a feral cat rescue at a trailer court near Kenner, Louisiana, that was bulldozed on November 19.
Joelle Rupert of Abbeville, Louisiana, into early December continued making hay deliveries to hard-hit farmers in Vermilion Parish. Online appeals issued on her behalf provoked debate as to whether animal welfare donors should be helping farmers to keep animals who would eventually be sold to slaughter.
Economic fallout from Kat-rina and Rita included plummeting donations to other animal welfare projects during the holiday giving season, when many nonprofit organizations raise about half of their annual budgets.
Donations to Katrina/Rita relief work cumulatively approached $50 million, with about 90% of the total going to the Humane Society of the U.S., American SPCA, Noah’s Wish, Best Friends, PetSmart Charities, and the Petfinder.com Foundation.
Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center founder Pat Craig and WOLF Sanctuary cofounder Frank Wendlund told Denver Post staff writer Kim McGuire that donations had fallen by as much as half. Mainstream humane societies reported declines of 15% to 25%.
Operating the Audubon Zoo, Audubon Aquarium of the Americans, and other facilities in New Orleans, the Audubon Nature Institute cut its 2006 budget to $20 million, down by half from recent years, and still expects to lose $9 million. Admissions income is expected to drop from $18 million in 2004 to $5 million in 2006, concessions income is likely to fall from $10 million to $3 million, and membership income will probably fall by half, to $2 million, institute president Ron Forman and executive vice president Dale Stastny testified to a December 6 meeting of the institute governing body, the Audubon Commission.
Fundraising for New Orleans humane work tends to parallel the fortunes of the Audubon Nature Institute. Audubon Zoo director Dan Maloney and Louisiana SPCA executive director Laura Maloney are husband and wife.
At least two organizations that took in many animals from the Gulf region have run into trouble for alleged neglect.
In Arkansas, Baxter County District Judge Van Gearhart on November 21 authorized the Baxter County Sheriff’s Department to begin relocating 370 dogs who remained at the Every Dog Needs A Home sanctuary in Gamaliel, after 104 dogs were removed and relocated in October. EDNAH founders Tammy and William Hanson received a January 2006 trial date on neglect charges.
On November 30, 2005 the Kansas Animal Health Department reportedly found about 75 sick cats and 120 starving dogs at the Miami County Humane Society, operated by Sheila Jones of Paola. Some of the dogs came from Ednah, investigators told Garance Burke of Associated Press.
A disappointing outcome for marine mammal advocates was the transfer of 17 dolphins, 24 sea lions, and 22 exotic birds from possession of the severely damaged Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport to Atlantis, a hotel and conference complex in the Bahamas owned by Kerzner International Destination Resorts.
Since Katrina the dolphins have been kept at four different sites. Eight escaped during Katrina, but were recaptured 22 days later.
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