Thanksgiving and Hurricane Katrina, Think about it!

Thanksgiving, New Orleans and Val

There is always something to be thankful for in our lives, even on the bad days.  Every day, I take a moment to reflect on how thankful I am for so many things, taking “the glass is half full” versus “the glass is half empty” approach.  For most of us, Thursday will bring an over-abundance of food to our tables as we share it with friends and/or family. However, heartache abounds–Afghanistan, Iraq, the flailing economy, I could go on an on. Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf coast in 2005 and every day I am reminded that New Orleans has still not recovered as a city and wonder how many families are still in a state of flux.  Val is a Hurricane Katrina dog and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t look into his eyes and wonder what his story is or under what circumstances his family decided to leave him behind. He was obviously destined to be with us (and we’re all very lucky) but what happened to all the other pets that were abandoned?

Following is a reprint of an article I wrote that is currently available on eZines:

August 28 marked the 4th anniversary of one of the most devastating hurricanes this country has ever seen. What became of these beloved animals?

Estimates vary, but over 50,000 furry companions were abandoned in the Gulf region by their guardians as they fled to higher, safer ground. Without a doubt, almost all residents anticipated returning to their homes and pets. Dozens of animal rescue organizations and individual volunteers from around the United States converged on New Orleans to assist in the local animal rescue and recovery and to fill the void left by the government who was ill-prepared to handle and in many ways thwarted these efforts. While most animals succumbed to the trauma and effects of the storm, approximately 10,000 were rescued and transported to other parts of the country where they found new homes or remain in shelters and animal sanctuarys waiting to be adopted. Despite their heroic attempts, these rescues were only able to reunite about 3,000 pets with their original families.

Animal welfare organizations from most major cities were represented in the area, including several from Chicago. All participated in helping to find new homes for some these homeless dogs and cats or to help find their families. Val, a Labrador retriever who was found barely alive, was one of the lucky ones, having found his way into a new loving home in suburban Chicago. “He was a disaster when we first saw him with his soulful, lonely eyes and emaciated body,” recounts Val’s new best friend, Jay Pomerance. “By the time he got to us in March, he was still only 40 pounds, had a malunited broken leg and was recovering from heartworm and numerous skin maladies.” Val now weighs in at a healthy 72 pounds and bounds about the house with his sister, Brandy, who was also a shelter dog. Both were adopted from the same shelter in suburban Chicago. These former “down-on-their-luck pooches” now participate in pet therapy programs and shelter awareness appearances in their community

As for what will be the fate of pets when disaster strikes in the future? The PETS (Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act) was signed in October, 2006, mandating that local and state emergency management plans “include preparation for evacuating family pets and service animals along with their owners.” This federal law also “allows FEMA to provide funding to create pet-friendly shelters and assist with the development of localized emergency manage plans.”

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