Animal welfare groups unite in wake of Hurricane Katrina tragedy

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Animal Welfare in Louisiana 10 Years After Hurricane Katrina


An estimated 1.5 million people fled Louisiana before Hurricane Katrina bore down in 2005. Cars jammed on the New Orleans' Causeway in attempts to escape the Category 3 hurricane barreling toward the city sitting below sea-level. Citizens were told to take what they could and flee.

Amid the chaos leading up to landfall, thousands of pets were left behind in houses that eventually were enveloped in floodwaters from the broken levees. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had no plan in place to assist animals, only humans. Refugee centers were forced to separate pets from families.

The fate of these animals rested on a hodgepodge of animal welfare groups who had little experience working together.

SEE MORE: Special coverage on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

Dr. Dick Green, senior director of disaster response for the ASPCA, arrived on the ground quickly after the storm struck and remained there for 47 days.

"We spent the first 20 plus days in relatively deep water. Then when the water started to recede our operations changed. We went from strictly floodwater rescue to a combination of water rescue and land rescue. So our mission changed," he told AOL.com.

Most flood waters subside within a week, allowing rescuers to transition to a land-based rescue, Green says, but Katrina was different.

"Katrina was the longest water-based rescue operation I've ever done. The water just hung around forever," he said.

RELATED: 10 years of recovery in New Orleans

The animal welfare groups also were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from across the nation. Media coverage of the pets affected by Katrina like the infamous forced separation of a 9-year-old and his little white dog Snowball inspired a grassroots movement to help the animals left behind.

"It was such a heart-wrenching thing," Green said, recalling people from every state coming to help. "They filled up their cars with food and supplies, they drove all over the country and showed up and we didn't know how to put them to use ... We did not know how to manage all of these groups that came to help."

Over 8,500 animals were ultimately taken to the makeshift shelter set up at the Lamar-Dixon Exposition Center in Gonzales, La.

Another estimated 250,000 dogs and cats were displaced or died as a result of Katrina, according to the ASPCA, including an unknown number of other animals such as fish, small mammals and horses.

See the pets, and their owners, who struggled in the aftermath of Katrina:

15 PHOTOS
Katrina 10 year: Animal welfare
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Animal welfare groups unite in wake of Hurricane Katrina tragedy
NEW ORLEANS - AUGUST 29: Lana Seymour and her dog Fifi peer out from their house to survey the damage in the French Quarter after Hurricane Katrina blew through the area early on August 29, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Katrina was down graded to a category 4 storm as it approached New Orleans. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - AUGUST 30: Al Duvernay (L) lowers Rusty the dog into his boat while rescuing people stranded by the Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters August 30, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Devastation is widespread throughout the city with water 12 feet high in some areas. Hundreds are feared dead and thousands were left homeless in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida by the storm. Looting has been reported in New Orleans, mostly empty due to the storm. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
New Orleans, UNITED STATES: A dog tied to the railing of a highway ramp barks in a New Orleans street 03 September, 2005 six days after hurricane Katrina hit the city. Thousands of soldiers poured into New Orleans 03 September while multitudes fled the city, leaving behind rotting bodies, flooded streets and homes and fears of disease epidemics. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
New Orleans, UNITED STATES: US Airforce Lt. Nathan Broshear holds a kitten rescued and airlifted to New Orleans International Airport in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina 04 September 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. AFP PHOTO/James NIELSEN (Photo credit should read JAMES NIELSEN/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2002: Ray Lambert is overjoyed to find at least one of his eight cats - Mamou - as he returns to his home on Keane Dr. in St. Bernard Parish for the first time since Hurricane Katrina hit 16 days ago. Lambert was on vacation with his wife in Maryland when the storm demolished his 9th Ward neighborhood. (Photo by Linda Rosier/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - AUGUST 29: A dog sits stranded on a rooftop in the flooded Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 29, 2005. Hurricane Katrina slammed Louisiana as a category 4 storm, forcing levies to brake and flooding much of New Orleans. (Photo by Marko Georgiev/Getty Images)
New Orleans, UNITED STATES: Two mules who usually pull carriages for tourists through the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana roam freely through the streets of the city 06 September 2005. US President George W. Bush said 06 September, he would investigate 'what went wrong' with the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, but he refused to say whether he would fire any aides involved. 'What I intend to do is to lead an investigation to find out what went right and what went wrong,' he said after a cabinet meeting, noting that the response to Katrina boded ill for any response to a terrorist attack in the future. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
New Orleans, UNITED STATES: Officer Wiillie Cirone of the Humane Society of USA leashes an abandoned dog beneath a Highway 10 overpass in New Orleans 06 September 2005. According Cirone, for each animal they find abandoned, there are ten more in the streets of the devastated city, eight days after Hurricane Katrina. AFP PHOTO/ Omar TORRES (Photo credit should read OMAR TORRES/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2002: Abandoned dogs rescued from the floodwaters ride on the bow of a fishing boat in the submerged Mid-City district of New Orleans, La. Residents who evacuated the Big Easy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina were not allowed to take their animals along, so many of them were forced to choose between remaining at their barely-habitable homes or leaving their beloved pets behind. (Photo by Corey Sipkin/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2002: Dave Douglas, 42, who was told he couldn't bring his dog if he evacuated the area, explains that he's therefore choosing to remain at his flooded home in the hard-hit Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans, La. As the Big Easy evacuates, already traumatized victims of Hurricane Katrina are making a choice: Head for safety or stay behind with a beloved pet. (Photo by Corey Sipkin/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - SEPTEMBER 10: A dog stands on top of an air conditioning unit waiting to be rescued by Arkansans for Animals Inc in the Eastover neighborhood of New Orleans September 10, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Volunteers have found thousands of pets ranging from dogs and cats to pigs and goats and are taking them to temporary shelters near New Orleans to be cleaned and fed. (Photo by Lawrence Jenkins/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - SEPTEMBER 10: Members of Arkansans for Animals Inc. unload a boat of exotic birds that they rescued from a home the Lake Forest Estates neighborhood September 10, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Volunteers have found thousands of pets ranging from dogs and cats to pigs and goats and are taking them to temporary shelters near New Orleans to be cleaned and fed. (Photo by Lawrence Jenkins/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - MAY 30: Robin Beaulieu tends to homeless dogs at Animal Rescue New Orleans headquarters May 30, 2007 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The grass-roots group shelters animals that were left behind following Hurricane Katrina or have been separated from their owners. According to the LA/SPCA about 104,000 pets were left behind after the storm and 88,700 pets are still unaccounted for. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - MAY 30: Robin Beaulieu tends to homeless cats at Animal Rescue New Orleans headquarters May 30, 2007 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The grass-roots group shelters animals that were left behind following Hurricane Katrina or have been separated from their owners. According to the LA/SPCA about 104,000 pets were left behind after the storm and 88,700 pets are still unaccounted for. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
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Thanks to major strides made since 2005, the United States is unlikely to see another disaster affect pets the way Katrina did.

By fall of 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act into law, making certain that FEMA included plans to help individuals with household pets and service animals in the wake of a catastrophe.

The relationship between all of the animal welfare organizations that banned together has now been formalized.

"Prior to Hurricane Katrina, we were notorious for working independently. We weren't real keen on coming together. Katrina forced us to come together. There was just no way we were going to be able to manage that individually," Dr. Green said.

Dr. Green credits the delegation of authority from the ASPCA and Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) with setting up temporary shelters.

"It brought everyone under that umbrella," he said.

RELATED: The Hurricane Katrina memorial you likely don't know about

About six months after Katrina, the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition (NARSC) was formed, which includes shelters across the country, PetSmart charity, federal organizations, the American Red Cross and more.

"It is just so cool to see how far we have gotten," Dr. Green said looking out at the NARSC bootcamp and seeing individuals wearing 10 different organization shirts mingling. "We have put our differences aside."

Infographic shows statistics on pet ownership during Katrina:

For more 10th anniversary Hurricane Katrina coverage, click here.

More Katrina coverage on AOL.com:Facts about the impact of Hurricane Katrina​:
Far fewer homeless in New Orleans todayAnimal rights groups helped rescue more than 8,500 stranded animals
Evolution of hurricane prediction technologyApprox. 250,000 dogs and cats were displaced or died due to Katrina
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