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Pets face starvation hell in New Orleans

Jane Garrison rescuing animals in New Orleans two months ago,
just days after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.

Two animal rescue groups are issuing a call for the state of Louisiana to stop blocking attempts to save the thousands of sick, injured, and traumatised dogs and cats who still wander the streets of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. And, incredibly, the animals’ new and ongoing misery is being caused by bureaucratic and political manoeuvring by the authorities and the State Governor.

The state has announced that the Hurricane Katrina rescue phase is over. Out-of-state veterinarians are banned from volunteering their services on behalf of the animals of greater New Orleans. Rescuers have been threatened with arrest if they attempt to give food and water to animals in Orleans Parish. Outside rescue groups are told they should turn all operations over to local authorities and leave the state.

Meanwhile, the pets that survived Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath are dying on the streets -sometimes right next to food and water bowls that the handful of remaining rescuers couldn't fill in time. and Alley Cat Allies are calling for the state to reverse its course and accept outside help in the form of veterinarians and more volunteers.

"We are literally seeing animals on the streets starving to death," says Jane Garrison, director of, one of a handful of rescue organisations still in the city. "We need more volunteers to feed and water the thousands of traumatised animals still on the streets, we need to keep trapping animals so we can reunite them with their guardians, and we need a massive spay/neuter programme"

Garrison coordinated the animal rescue programme for six weeks as a volunteer for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Since HSUS pulled out October 1st, she has been running her own programme. With a steadily dwindling force of volunteers, Garrison races against time trying to provide food and water at more than 2,000 sites in the New Orleans area, as well as fielding a constant stream of owner rescue requests.

"Many of these animals are people's companions who escaped their homes when doors and windows blew open. It would be completely unethical to allow them to die on the streets," she says. The state claims that local authorities can handle the problem, but rescuers on the ground know this is not the case.

One of the hardest hit areas, St. Bernard Parish, has no active animalcontrol agency or functioning animal shelter. The Louisiana SPCA, in charge of animal control in Orleans Parish, does not have anywhere close to the staff, space, or resources required to address a problem of this magnitude.

As bad as the situation is now, in a few months it will be even worse. Despite the horrific conditions, the dogs and cats on the streets are still breeding, and rescuers are starting to see puppies and kittens born after Katrina. Statistics show that one unspayed female cat and her offspring can produce more than 59,000 cats in five years.

"If the state government doesn't allow us to feed, treat, and find homes for the thousands of animals struggling to survive now, it is in for a rude awakening the beginning of next year," says Becky Robinson, national director of Alley Cat Allies (ACA). "The number of free-roaming cats and dogs will be devastating."

ACA, a national cat advocacy group now running a cat rescue operation from a base in Bogalusa, Louisiana, has plans for an immediate, large-scale spay/neuter programme for the street cats of New Orleans. This programme requires the services of about a dozen veterinarians experienced with high-volume surgery. Many out-of-state vets have offered their services, free of charge.

However, the state of Louisiana is standing in the way. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, acting on advice from Assistant State Veterinarian Martha Littlefield, has refused to extend an executive order giving out-of-state veterinarians permission to practice in Louisiana. That order expired October 25. Any out-of-state vet practicing in the area now would do so at the risk of jail time and thousands of dollars in fines.

Despite the state's claims that local veterinarians can fulfil the need, ACA has been unable to find local vets who can provide consistent care for the cats housed at its temporary shelter, let alone enough to conduct the type of large-scale spay/neuter programme that is so desperately needed.

"This nation’s animal rescue community can help Louisiana meet this crisis if the state will simply acknowledge the problem still exists and allow us to work," Robinson says. "This is not only humane and ethical; it is in everyone's best interest."

For more information and for details of how to help, please contact Claire Davis at:,
or visit and