Ten years ago, the nation and the world were horrified by the catastrophic loss of life and property in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The human toll was devastating. But so was the toll on thousands of companion animals throughout the Gulf coast. An estimated 250,000 dogs and cats were displaced or died as a result of the storm.
Animal rescue groups rushed to the scene and committed themselves to the daunting challenge of saving as many lives as they could. The ASPCA worked closely with the Louisiana SPCA and the Humane Society of South Mississippi, sending dedicated staff to work on the ground for two years and contributing $13 million in grants for rescue, reunification and sheltering efforts.
In collaboration with our partners, we helped reunite more than a thousand pets with their owners, and helped transport over 7,500 homeless and displaced animals to the Lamar-Dixon Exposition Center in Gonzales, Louisiana, which had been dedicated to their care.
Despite weeks of round-the-clock work from responders and volunteers, flaws in the process kept us from being even more effective. It became obvious that new organizational approaches and legal fixes were necessary to get ahead of the next major calamity, and—true to form—we didn’t delay.
Less than a year after the storm, two groups were formed with formal support and participation from the ASPCA: the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition (NARSC) and the National Alliance of State Animal and Agricultural Emergency Programs (NASAAEP). These coalitions are dedicated to enhancing communications between animal welfare organizations, state agencies, and volunteers during emergencies. They also conduct in-depth trainings around the country on topics including flood and fire rescue, pet first aid, proper animal handling, decontamination and animal sheltering and assessment.
On the federal legislative side, two Acts passed by Congress—the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act and the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act—added pets to existing federal guidelines for disaster planning, and designated FEMA as the lead agency for pets in federally declared disasters. These laws not only save lives, but elevate the issue of animal safety to its rightful place among other natural disaster priorities.
Another measure only recently proposed, the Animal Emergency Planning Act, would require businesses that house pets—including pet breeders, research facilities, zoos, animal carriers and animal handlers—to develop detailed contingency plans for animal care in cases of emergency. These businesses profit or benefit from animals; it only make sense that they take full responsibility for the animals’ safety.
Important legislative work is also happening at the state level. If you live in California, I urge you to join us and the American Red Cross in supporting AB 317, which will facilitate the establishment of vital emergency shelters in the event of a state emergency. We’re collaborating with the Red Cross to also find ways of co-locating animal and human shelters to help keep families and their pets together during severe crises. AB 317 faces a critical final vote in the Senate next week before heading to Governor Brown's desk for his consideration.
Setting up animal shelters quickly is crucial. During Katrina, many of the existing Louisiana shelters were flooded, making emergency facilities the only available shelters across four parishes.
In New York, lawmakers recently passed a bill that will enable veterinarians to cross state lines to respond to pets in disasters and other crises. Because these unexpected events can often overwhelm local agencies, it’s vital to facilitate the quick arrival of out-of-state veterinarians who specialize in shelter medicine, forensic sciences, and emergency response protocol. This bill is currently awaiting Governor Cuomo’s signature.
Of course, the biggest responsibility for keeping pets safe and alive during disasters belongs to their owners. When owners don’t take necessary precautions, it puts both them and their animals in danger. According to a Fritz Institute poll, 44 percent of New Orleans residents delayed or chose not to evacuate the city during Hurricane Katrina because they refused to leave their pets behind. A similar nationwide poll by Lake Research Partners on behalf of the ASPCA found 42 percent of Americans would also not evacuate without their pets.
Simple, inexpensive preparations can keep owners from having to choose between their pets’ lives and their own. Some of the most important tips:
Micro-chip your pets and make sure they wear collars and ID tags with up-to-date contact information.
Keep current photos of your pets on hand.
Establish quick exit routes in your home, and know the locations of local animal shelters, pet-friendly hotels and friends who can watch your pets for you.
Put stickers on your windows to let rescuers know pets currently live there. (Please remove them if no animals are inside)
Put together an emergency kit, including pet carriers, canned food, bowls, bottled water, first aid items, garbage bags, and blankets.
With natural disasters always threatening to wreak havoc on our lives, we must continue to learn from them and actively prepare for their effects. This is the best way to protect ourselves as well as those whose lives depend on us.
Some animals are people-pleasers: they love everyone they meet and aren’t afraid to show affection. Some animals are shy, and instead prefer to devote themselves to one or two close confidantes who have earned their trust. Cheerio, a one-year-old Maltese rescued from cruelty, was the latter. Fortunately, she found the perfect companion to share her life—and her love—with after being rescued by the ASPCA. Here is her Happy Tail.
When Cheerio was rescued in February 2015, she had a hair band embedded deep in her neck and head. Although her skin had started to repair itself, the band had caused damage to her left ear canal. At the ASPCA Animal Hospital, Cheerio received medical care, along with dental and spay surgeries, before heading to our Adoption Center to search for a home.
But the abuse Cheerio had endured left her emotionally drained—she was nervous around strangers and other dogs and cried when left alone. Underneath the scared exterior, though, Cheerio was a sweet pooch eager for affection. Once she warmed up to someone, she would stick right by their side. The true definition of a “lap dog,” she loved to be stroked and cuddled. We knew that some adopter would be very lucky to have her, and fortunately, we met Jacqueline A. just a few months later.
Jacqueline admits that she wasn’t always eager for a new furry friend. “When our Bichon Frise passed away after being part of the family for 16 years, I decided to never have a dog again,” she confesses. The heartbreak was more than she could handle. But Jacqueline’s son had a different point of view. “He argued that our dog, even though a family dog, had been rather mine,” she says. “He said he wanted to go through the experience of adopting a dog and having a dog that would follow him, like my dog followed me around the house. A dog that he could call his own.”
Moved by her son’s request, Jacqueline began “window shopping” on the ASPCA website, and less than a month later they were at our Adoption Center meeting available pups in person. “We wanted a small dog that could come with us everywhere we went,” Jacqueline says, and it wasn’t long before they spotted Cheerio. “As we walked through the ASPCA, we saw her through a glass wall, all curled up and shaking. We couldn’t see her face, just a number of gray, black and taupe spots on her shaved, white body.” Cheerio had just been released from the Hospital and wasn’t ready for adoption yet, but Jacqueline’s son took one look and said “THAT ONE” without hesitation. “We decided to wait as long as it took for her to be ready for us.”
On April 10, Cheerio was finally ready. Jacqueline and her son adopted her and gave her a new name, Piccola, which means “small” or “little” in Italian. Jacqueline says, “From the moment she came home, she displayed a great personality. She is friendly, vivacious, sometimes naughty, and so cute that we can’t take a walk without being stopped every few steps with a petting request.”
What’s more, Jacqueline adds, “From the first day, she determined that my son was her ‘person.’ Even though I am the one who feeds her and bathes her, it is my son whom she follows around the home.” In other words, it sounds like both Cheerio and Jacqueline’s son got exactly what they both wanted: a best friend to call their own. Congratulations to this happy new family!
The words “horse auction” may not mean much to you, but for thousands of American equines, they are a death sentence. At these weekly events, horses are auctioned off to buyers who can use them for any purpose, which means that kill buyers—those who make money selling horses for their meat—are lurking around every corner. Many owners who take their horses to auctions have no idea that they might meet this awful fate.
While investigating a recent rural horse auction, Stacy Segal, Director of Equine Initiatives at the ASPCA, spotted a young chestnut horse. He engaged her with playful nuzzles, and that’s when she noticed the unusual marking on his head: a white heart. When his number came up, Stacy was devastated to see that kill buyers were among those doing the bidding. She couldn’t bear to see him sent to death, and—thanks to some fast action and the assistance of a horse rescue organization—was able to intervene and help save Heart’s life.
Today, Heart is happy, safe and loved. His life was spared that day, but hundreds of other horses weren’t so fortunate. For them, the horse auction was a death sentence. But saving one horse at a time is not that solution—and that’s why we need you to get involved right now.
When you make a donation to the ASPCA today, you can support our life-saving efforts, including those focused on ending horse slaughter once and for all. Your gift can help us continue to fight for legislation that will prevent horse slaughter from returning to the U.S. and ban the export of our horses for slaughter abroad, and can also help us continue to provide grants and hands-on assistance to rescues and sanctuaries all around the country.
We have great news, blog readers! Earlier this month, Random House Children’s Books and Dr. Seuss Enterprises hosted a very special social media campaign to promote pet adoption and help raise money for animals in crisis in honor of the newly-released Dr. Seuss book, What Pet Should I Get?
As part of the campaign, Random House asked you to share the love you have for your furry friends by posting a photo of your pet to Instagram or Twitter. For every photo posted using the hashtag #whatpet, Random House and Dr. Seuss Enterprises would donate one dollar to the ASPCA, up to the first 15,000 photos—and the results were pretty amazing!
Thanks to animal-lovers like you, the 15,000 photo goal was reached within just 6 days! Even big name participants like BigCatDerek and AmyPoehlerSmartGirls both joined in on the fun. The funds raised from the #whatpet campaign will go towards supporting the ASPCA’s lifesaving services that help animals in need nationwide every day.
This is no small feat, and we’re so thankful to pet parents like you who shared photos of your animal companions! We again want to thank Random House Books and Dr. Seuss Enterprises for this amazing opportunity to remind readers that pet adoption is always the best option.
Already shared your photo? Check out all the photos and see other pet parents with their four-legged friends at www.whatpet.com.
Animal Care & Control of NYC (ACC) delivers kittens to the nursery daily. Those with nursing mothers usually go into foster care, while orphans are hand-fed every two hours by the more than 50 caretakers and staff.
“It’s a huge accomplishment to be able to help an organization like the ACC,” said Nursery manager Eric Burgie, who added that knowing when the kittens are adopted is the staff’s ultimate reward.
Sometimes, those adopters are the caretakers themselves. Pamela Harris, a Nursery caregiver, wanted a playmate for her younger cat and chose Yvonne, a four-month-old tabby who survived several brushes with illness. “It’s hard to resist the cuteness,” Harris says.
Colleen Moore, another Nursery caregiver, fell in love with Mojave, a tiny white-and-orange kitten, and has already amassed a collection of photos of him on her iPhone.
Caregiver Teandra Henry pointed to a black-and-white kitten, also named Teandra. “We’ve been through the alphabet 15 times,” she said, explaining how each incoming litter is assigned a letter of the alphabet that’s designated as the first initial of each kitten’s name. Sometimes, “larger litters get assigned tougher letters, like X and Z,” she said, laughing. “It never fails.”
While we are thrilled by this milestone, we are already back at work, caring for more and more kittens every day. We look forward to celebrating as they move on from our Nursery to find loving homes.