Many people lost their lives during Hurricane Katrina because they refused to evacuate without their pets. Rescue crews and shelters like the Superdome refused to take the animals, so they were either abandoned or suffered the same fate as their owners.
There were no real laws or policies on what to do with the animals, and many rescuers probably felt that their hands were tied. Nearly half of the people who stayed behind did so because of their pets.
“It’s hard to look back at that animal and be like, ‘I understand that you rely 100 percent on me for everything, but you’re going to stay here, and I’m gonna go, so at this point this is where our relationship ends,’” said Eric Durcinka of the Louisiana SPCA.
“It’s kind of like you give up, and just say, ‘I’m not going to worry about you right now.’ And it’s like I say, people don’t fault people for that – it’s understandable – but you can’t then fault the person that says, ‘I can’t do that.’”
“For them, the mindset was, ‘Well, of course I’m not going to leave these animals behind; I would never leave a member of my family, I would never leave my best friend behind. You can’t possibly expect me to leave one of my pets behind,’” said David Grimm, Editor of Science Magazine.
Laws have since been passed making it mandatory for rescuers to save pets during evacuations.
“We demanded the first pet evacuation bill in the country – it was passed here in Louisiana – and then of course it became a federal bill,” said Ginnie Baumann of Animal Rescue New Orleans (ARNO).
“Louisiana passed a Pet Evacuation Act, which basically mandated that rescuers of future natural disasters take pets into account – that pets be evacuated with people, that shelters accept pets,” Grimes explained.
Since then, 14 states (and Washington DC) have adopted their own versions of the Pet Act.
“So when Sandy was bearing down on New York and New Jersey, they got people out with their pets, because they understand the unique bond between people and their pets,” Baumann said.