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The ‘forgotten’ victims
US animal welfare groups in massive rescue bid


A dog waits patiently for his master’s return...

ANIMAL welfare organisations from across the United States are rushing teams to New Orleans and the surrounding region in an effort to rescue as many animals as possible in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Given the appalling conditions on the ground, transport of any kind is difficult and particularly with no fuel for vehicles, this is an enormous undertaking. The animal rescue teams are being prevented from entering some areas due to civilian unrest.

On the morning of 2nd September The American Humane Society had a list of 2,000 reports of animals left in houses and in urgent need of rescue. The animal shelters are being overwhelmed and there are already reports of animals being euthanised.

While the human tragedy in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has been widely reported in the media, the plight of the animals in the affected area has been largely ignored. Heartbreaking stories are beginning to emerge and a massive rescue operation is underway.

When residents of New Orleans and other cities in Katrina’s path were advised to evacuate, some pet owners were faced with a terrible choice – to stay with their animals or leave them behind.

Fidelma Rigby and her husband began their preparations to leave on Friday, planning to stay in Atlanta, where they had used a kennel for their two dogs during previous hurricanes. This time when they called the kennel could not take the dogs; neither could the hotel where they planned to stay. The Rigbys were forced to make a heartbreaking choice.

"The choice was to evacuate with the dogs, and keep them in the car. We were so afraid that the heat would get them. So, we boarded up the house, and left them in the upstairs bathroom with a lot of food and water," said Mrs Rigby. "We expected to be back in two or three days. If I'd known, we'd have taken them and driven and driven and driven and they'd be safe. We just didn't know." The Rigbys now wait to see if help will reach their dogs, Mark and Shawn, in time.

Sky News has reported that many people chose to stay at home because of the difficulties of evacuating with their animals and it has been suggested that the death toll may be higher as a result. Some people made their way to official shelters, taking their animals with them only to find the animals were refused entry.

Elsewhere, an emotional newscaster described dogs barking in the dark. "I hear the dogs yelping. All of them yelping...hoping someone will come."

The American Humane Society has news of an elderly man who had lost everything but whilst being evacuated from a hotel in Biloxi was forced to leave his dog behind. Another story, on the United Animal Nations disaster response web forum, is of a puppy called Snowball taken from the arms of a little boy because it was not allowed on the bus or in the shelter he was going to. No one knows what happened to the puppy but people are looking out for Snowball and hope to reunite the distraught child with his beloved puppy.

In Slidell, a temporary shelter for companion animals has been set up and Terri Crisp, founder of Noah’s Wish said "There are many dogs running loose throughout the city. Many people left their animals behind when they evacuated and law enforcement has been cutting dogs loose as they find them."

Approximately 200 stray animals have already been picked up by animal control and these animals will be moved to the temporary shelter.

The Dog Politics web site has put out a worldwide SOS call for dog owners to give help for the hurricane victims, using one case to highlight the plight of many.

Trapped

‘My niece and her three lovely dogs are trapped on the roof top of the Chalmette High School in the New Orleans area. This is the fourth day she has been waiting for someone to rescue her and the three dogs. About six hundred people were rescued but Debbie Gaudet, my niece, would not leave her dogs and are still on that roof. Somebody out there please help rescue Debbie and her dogs.’

Dogs are helping in the rescue effort too. Search and Rescue dogs are being deployed to search for survivors. Four days after the disaster a 70 year-old man was rescued from a collapsed building after being found by a SAR dog.

Donations

In the UK we are too far away to give any practical help, but we can donate money to help the rescue organisations carry out their vital work. This can be done quickly and simply using the Internet. Some of the organisations involved are:

Noah’s Wish: http://www.noahswish.org
Best Friend Animal Society: http://www.bestfriends.org
United Animal Nations: http://www.uan.org
The Humane Society of The United States: http://www.hsus.org
American Humane Association: http://www.americanhumane.org
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: http://www.aspca.org
The American Veterinary Medical Association: www.avmf.org

For human victims American Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org/

Updates may be found at: http://www.dogpolitics.com


An abandoned pet dog noses amongst the rubbish surrounding New Orleans' Superdome
where thousands of human survivors huddled for days awaiting rescue


In New Orleans earlier this week, Al Duvernay lowers Rusty the dog into his boat.
An HSUS Team was granted access to the city on Sunday to help rescue stranded pets.
(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)