Animals & Money: Pets did much better with Hurricane Gustav

New Orleans residents all did better this hurricane, including the dogs and cats. What happened last time around during Katrina to animals and their owners inspired some great changes.

During Katrina animals weren't allowed in shelters or buses leaving town. That gave pet owners two awful options: abandon their animals or wait out the storm with them. Thousands of dogs and cats were abandoned. Many drowned. A lucky few were plucked from top shelves or chained inside houses. Saddest of all, some people who stayed to protect and comfort their dogs ended up dying alongside them.

After Katrina emergency workers owned up to the idea that since pets have become part of people's families, they better come up with a better plan than just leaving pets behind. In 2006 the federal Pet Evacuation and Standards Act required disaster plans to "address the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals following a major disaster or emergency."

This time around it seemed to have worked., which is kind of like an eBay for homeless animals, polled the local rescue groups and found things went off pretty well. Small animals were just allowed on the evacuation buses, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Officials ordered up 150 semi-trucks to carry out the bigger dogs, the Kansas City Star reports. When people checked in, they would also check in their dogs, then get a tracking bracelet. The dogs' temporary shelters were next to human shelters so families could visit.The operation still took lots of volunteer groups to fill the gaps. Some went into neighborhoods to pick up pets that owners or neighbors reported left behind.

The rescue group Best Friends, for example, brought tons of pet crates for the people who showed up for evacuation without one. Best Friends was on the ground for nine months after Katrina, rescuing thousands of dogs. After Gustav, they went out to investigate reports of dogs left tied up in yards.

Animal Rescue New Orleans evacuated the animals in their shelter just before the storm: cats to Folsom and dogs to Shreveport. They've been coming back today and yesterday. And a lucky thing they got out -- the shelter suffered about $15,000 of damage.

The Humane Society of the United States has been tracking animals caught in the storm, including two deaf dogs lost for a month in Katrina who this time went to a shelter next to their owners. I thought it was odd that their news site celebrates the birth of puppies in their shelter. I mean, puppies are cute and all. But aren't pets having puppies what we try to discourage?

The Humane Society of South Mississippi helped run a pet-friendly shelter where people could stay with crated animals. Pasado's Safe Haven's volunteers came from around the country, helped evacuate local animal shelters and picked up some strays -- including eight puppies dumped in the parking lot just before the storm hit. They're still on a farm north of the city with 200 animals.

Thankfully, Gustav turned out to be something of a practice session. All the groups down there performed well. But all of this shows that moving pets out of a disaster area is possible.

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