Family reunited after Hurricane Katrina
August 29, 2005, a community and its animals were irrevocably and tragically altered. One of the deadliest and strongest hurricanes ever recorded, exacted a devastating blow to the Gulf Coast leading to the loss of thousands of lives, both human and animal. Amid the chaos and separation emerged one of the most enduring of bonds, the human-animal bond. In our relationship with animals, it became painfully clear that we needed them, as much as they needed us. So began the search for loved ones lost.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it became necessary to issue a mandatory evacuation of citizens who stayed behind to weather the storm. The floodwaters flowing through New Orleans had become toxic, crime and levee breaches made New Orleans even more dangerous.
David Webster, a volunteer at the Louisiana SPCA since 2001, remembers hearing the Louisiana State Police making the announcement September 4 that everyone had to leave New Orleans by 5 p.m. and evacuation help would be provided for those unable to get out on their own. Unfortunately, this evacuation did not include pets of any kind. David chose to stay behind during the mandatory evacuation in advance of Katrina because he refused to leave his pets to face the unrelenting force of the Category 3 storm on their own. When the floodwater began to rise the day after Katrina made landfall, David and his three pets made an attempt to reach higher ground. Unfortunately, his pet cat, Creech, fell in the toxic waters filling the city. Although he was quickly able to regain possession of Creech, the lasting effects of the toxic water that would sit on Creech’s fur for days was unknown.
After a failed attempt to evacuate on their own and with the worst of the storm behind them, David was faced with the horrifying decision to evacuate without his pets or face unimaginable circumstances if he stayed behind. With regret and heavy sorrow, David made the impossible decision to evacuate. Scrambling frantically to gather his belongs and get his beloved pets as secured as possible before he had to be evacuated by helicopter, David vowed he would see them again soon. He gave his Pit Bull mix, Tazz, his Shepherd mix, Troubles, and his cat, Creech, a heartfelt but temporary goodbye. David then secured his pets in the back room of his home and provided them with a month’s worth of food and water before painfully leaving them behind.
David knew that the intense heat and humidity common during the sweltering summer months in the South that the pets he loved so much would not survive for very long. He had to take immediate action if he hoped to be reunited with them someday. Once safely evacuated, David’s sister reached out to animal rescue first responders and asked them to add his address to the list of homes to search. With more than 7,000 addresses on this list within only a few days of Katrina, David knew he could not lose hope they would find his pets in time.
Merely five days later, an eternity for those suffering from Katrina’s aftermath, David’s sister received a call from the Louisiana SPCA saying his animals were rescued! The next day, David went to the Louisiana SPCA’s temporary rescue facility at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, Louisiana to search for Tazz, Troubles and Creech. When he arrived at Lamar-Dixon, David had to walk up and down rows of make-shift cages containing over 1,200 rescued animals while looking for the family he had not seen in almost a week. Finally, in the very last row, he spotted two familiar faces. David compared the thrill of finding Tazz and Troubles to that of winning the Powerball. However, that happiness dissipated when he realized that Creech was not with them. In a sudden state of panic, David found the nearest Louisiana SPCA staff member he could find. The staff informed David that he should also check the LSU Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge where some sick animals were being taken. It was then that David realized Creech may have fallen ill from being exposed to the toxic floodwaters days before.
Because the communication infrastructure in New Orleans was demolished during Katrina, getting messages to loved ones and communication between first responders was extremely difficult. Luckily, David was able to reach his brother and ask him to search for Creech at LSU while he reclaimed Tazz and Troubles in Gonzales. With high hopes, David’s brother found a cat matching Creech’s description in the triage room.
David immediately rushed to LSU’s triage room in an effort to reunite his family as soon as possible. The triage room was about to close for the day when a heartfelt plea from David encouraged them to keep the doors open for a little while longer. David initially saw only three cats in the triage room, none of them were Creech. As he prepared to leave defeated, a veterinary technician pointed out a cat in a carrier that he had walked right past. As David knelt down, he immediately recognized Creech’s distinctive pattern on her nose. He had finally found his entire family. David describes that day as one that he, nor his pets, will ever forget.
Based on a poll conducted by the Fritz Institute, 44% of people did not evacuate for Katrina because they refused to leave their pets behind. In 2006, the Louisiana SPCA successfully lobbied for the passage of Senate Bill 607, better known as the “Pet Evacuation Bill.” Now, governments on all levels are required to include companion animals in their evacuation plans.
In the months and years to follow, David continues to volunteer with the Louisiana SPCA. “I am amazed and proud to be a part of the Louisiana SPCA’s ongoing growth and take solace in knowing that if forced to evacuate again, my animals will be there with me,” says David.