Disasters are never good for animals, and Gustav is leaving a trail of destruction and, as follows, despair and suffering. But it was a new day in terms of preparation for the storm, for people and for animals, thanks in part to the awareness, lessons, and lawmaking that followed in Katrina’s wake. The HSUS had been in the field preparing for days before (you can follow our work here), and I’ve asked Scotlund Haisley, our senior director for Emergency Services, to give a dispatch.
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JoAnne DeQueant visits with her dog
Princess at the Shreveport shelter.
Most residents of the Gulf Coast are breathing a tentative sigh of relief after Gustav made landfall as a lower-than-expected Category 2 hurricane. Although Gustav came ashore with less intensity than it might have, we know from past experience that a storm’s full impact cannot be determined until hours or days after its initial impact. As The Humane Society of the United States’ Emergency Services team awaits word on the condition of the hardest hit areas we are focusing our attention on caring for the displaced animals.
After three days of evacuations our HSUS rescue team has now joined other HSUS staffers and specially trained volunteers who are overseeing a large portion of the emergency evacuation center set up at the Shreveport Fair Grounds—the largest of three mass evacuation shelters in Louisiana. More than 100 volunteers from humane organizations across the country are working as one here, with veterinarians, local officials, and Department of Corrections inmates providing round-the-clock care to more than 1,000 displaced animals.
The guardians of about 70 percent of these animals are staying right next door at the human shelter (watch our video). Having the animals in such close proximity—able to be walked, fed and comforted by their own families—has noticeably decreased the stress level of both the human and animal evacuees. In a time of crisis and uncertainty, knowing that your animals are safe can be a great emotional comfort.
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Yolanda Stalbert, safe in Shreveport with her three dogs.
Many of these evacuees were veterans of Hurricane Katrina. These displaced New Orleans residents were amazed by the efficiency of the mass exodus in preparation for Gustav. I spoke to one woman who had refused to evacuate during Katrina because she was not allowed to take her dog with her. This time around she wasn’t forced to make that decision, and evacuated safely along with her animal companion. Another evacuee, alongside her dogs Gumbo and Jasmine, told us, "Thank goodness they have this shelter for animals because I don’t know what I would do without it." It is stories like these that really illustrate how far we have come since Katrina, and the importance of the measures being taken to include pets in disaster preparedness plans.
Over the horizon, of course, our HSUS staff is warily tracking weather reports from the angry September Atlantic, where Hanna bears down on the southeastern seaboard, followed by tropical storms Ike and Josephine. One hurricane blogger warned that conditions in the tropical Atlantic are “really getting nuts.”