During the evacuation for Hurricane Katrina, a police officer confiscated a small boy's white dog, named Snowball. The boy was inconsolable, and Snowball's story became a symbol of much that went wrong for pets and their owners in that disaster.
This is the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the most devastating storm ever to hit the United States. It pounded the Mississippi and Louisiana coastlines with sustained winds well in excess of a hundred miles an hour, causing massive destruction and loss of life. Almost two thousand people, and an estimated quarter of a million animals, died as a result of Katrina. One statistic indicates that almost half of those people who perished did so because they refused to leave their pets behind. I remember seeing pictures of people wading through deep water holding their furry companions up to keep them from drowning.
After Katrina, it was clear the lack of disaster planning for pets jeopardized people’s health and safety. Changes were needed to include provisions for pets and service animals in any emergency plans. Congress passed the “PETS Act”, the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in October, 2006. It directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to take into account the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals in a major disaster or emergency. Since then, more than half of the states have adopted their own laws or disaster plans to consider the needs of people with pets or service animals.
Lessons learned from Katrina are bearing fruit. For example, efforts have been made to improve communication, to assure as much information as possible is kept with a rescued animal increasing the possibility that it might be reunited with its owner. Hurricane Sandy, which hit the Northeast in 2012, saw animal shelters adjacent to some of the shelters for people. Very few animals were lost as a result of Hurricane Sandy.
As pet owners we can all learn lessons from Katrina. Make a plan to keep you and your pet safe. And microchipping your furry buddy will improve the odds that if you do become separated, you can find each other again. When disaster strikes, the best thing to help you weather the storm may be your best friend, when you’re speaking of pets.