In The Bond, I retold the story of the enormous pet rescue that unfolded in the days and weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. So many remarkable rescuers deployed to the scene, and countless others helped fund every aspect of the on-the-ground response; collectively, the groups and individuals who pitched in delivered thousands of dogs and cats from danger. The emergency shelter set up in Gonzales, La., first established by the Louisiana SPCA, filled up so quickly that we struggled to find new places to keep or send animals, so we could keep admitting those rescued each day.
I remember taking a day trip to the Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson, La.—a medium-security prison—and asking then-warden James LeBlanc for help. He said the team there really wanted to do whatever they could, and he felt the inmates would jump at the chance to work with animals and pitch in to assist. So began an important new relationship between The HSUS and DCI. In the short run, the prison took in some Katrina rescues, and many of the inmates helped with the caretaking at a great time of crisis.
But in this rural part of Louisiana, without a private humane society or a parish animal care agency, we thought it would be a good idea to build a permanent shelter—with emergency sheltering capacity to better serve state animal care and control entities, and to have the prison care for a larger universe of homeless animals and to promote adoptions in the years ahead. We gave a grant of $600,000 to the state of Louisiana for this purpose, and now, more than five years later, the shelter is in operation and the program is in full swing—with the prison essentially acting as the region’s animal care agency.
It is yet another positive outcome from the tragedy of Katrina, where we’ve worked to make the humane infrastructure in the Gulf Coast stronger than it ever had been. The entire experience with DCI reminds us all about the eternal bonds we have with animals, the rehabilitative effects that animals have on everyone they touch, and innovative ways we must conduct our work—enlisting unlikely allies in a cause with finite resources and overwhelming demands.
Here’s a video from the shelter that will warm your heart and remind you about the importance of second chances.