August in New Orleans can be oppressively hot to say the least. 2015 daily high temperatures have been off the charts with heat indices in the triple digits, leaving both people and pets seeking the comfort of shade and air conditioning. However, August has also become a time of reflection and remembrance.
Ten years ago this month, New Orleans experienced its worst nightmare. Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005 as a Category 3 storm, causing over one billion dollars in damage along the Gulf Coast, and leaving eighty percent of the Crescent City under water. Despite being urged to evacuate, many residents had refused to leave town without their pets, a decision that would prove fatal for some.
The staggering and devastating losses of Katrina (followed two weeks later by Rita) prompted new state and federal legislation requiring that pets be included in disaster evacuation planning and execution. Fast forward to 2008 and all of the lessons learned three years before were applied during a dress rehearsal in the form of hurricane Gustav. The mayor hyped things up by calling Gustav "The mother of all storms," compelling people to get out of town as there would be no "shelter of last resort" available.
As a result of the new laws, over 1,600 pets were evacuated many with their owners, While Gustav caused a lot of wind damage, it turned out to be not as serious for New Orleans as residents had been led to believe it would be. However, because the mayor's scare tactic worked, city officials and first responders were able to attend to important matters at hand and test out new measures for recovery.
At the same time city officials were preparing for the arrival of Gustav, a memorial was unveiled in council chambers dedicated to the thousands of pets lost in Katrina and Rita. The statue of a seated dog and cat, created by Baton Rouge artist Richard Chashoudian, sits outside council chambers in city hall. (Unfortunately it can only be accessed on council meeting days.)
On the eve of the tenth anniversary of Katrina, New Orleans once again faces the potential approach of yet another named storm, but unlike 2005, it has been a relatively quiet season. It's still early to know if Erika will actually visit New Orleans, let alone rise above tropical storm status, but at least Nola pet parents now have access to a wider range of resources and information to assist them should they need to evacuate with their four-legged family members.
Pet Evacuation Kit Provisions
Pet Disaster Safety
National Hurricane Center
Kinship Circle Animal Disaster Response