From Katrina with Love Best Friends Animal Society’s rescue efforts in New Orleans

When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast of the United States on August 29, 2005, it displaced hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom were forced to leave behind their beloved pets.

Best Friends Animal Society was the first national animal rescue organization to arrive in New Orleans, one of the areas hardest hit by the storm — and the last to leave.

Displaced pets sought higher ground after the storm.

Best Friends quickly established an emergency shelter at the St. Francis Animal Sanctuary in Tylertown, Mississippi, about 100 miles north of New Orleans.

The shelter, which was originally supposed to be temporary, remained in operation for more than eight months.

A rescue team from Best Friends drove the 1,600 miles from Utah to Mississippi with generators, food, dog collars, leashes, catchpoles, crates, fencing and other supplies the shelter needed.

Rescuers from Best Friends carefully navigated the flooded streets in johnboats, searching for animals to save. They found dogs perched on the edge of an almost fully submerged boat. Both were in dire need of immediate medical care, which they promptly received. The white dog, who could barely hold her head up, was in the worst shape; but after receiving fluids intravenously, she perked up.
“Every day, when you got that first animal,
I didn’t care what else happened.
As long as you got that first one, it was a good day.”

– a Best Friends rescuer

A johnboat could accommodate two dogs — three if at least two of them got along.

Hurricane Katrina brought some troubling realities to light: Not only was New Orleans unprepared for a storm of such magnitude, but the city had no pet evacuation plan in place for a disaster.

“You could see by his eyes that he was a little confused, but he definitely wanted to get to us.” – a Best Friends rescuer

Soldiers were indispensable in the effort to find and save animals.

“Our biggest asset was the military,” says a Best Friends team member. “They’d come find us and tell us where animals were. There were also collecting dogs, keeping as many as 30 of them together in fenced areas. They were breaking all the rules — but it was working out just fine.”

A rescuer found Goldie at an evacuated military base. “She was badly dehydrated and suffering from the heat, and she seemed sick, perhaps from trying to drink dirty water,” he says.
"She was completely listless when I found her, but she recovered well when we got her to safety."

– a Best Friends rescuer

MMilitary personnel spotted a boat marooned on a nearby highway, with the following message spray-painted on it: “Dog in boat.”

When the Best Friends team arrived at the scene, they found a terrified, badly sunburned dog covered in what was described as “thick goo.” They named her Diesel.

“She was obviously nervous — we were strangers, after all. But as soon as I picked her up, she just melted in my arms.” – a Best Friends rescuer

Cats were much more difficult to catch than dogs. Best Friends used a trapping strategy to rescue more than 1,000 cats.

Days spent searching for animals took on a kind rhythm.

“We would go into a neighborhood and do our best to stay where the roads were, so we wouldn’t hit something,” a Best Friends rescuer says. “We’d call out and make barking noises and shout, ‘Here, boy!’ or ‘Want a treat?’ Then we’d shut the motor off and just float down the street listening really carefully. When we heard a dog barking, we’d head in that direction.”

The team had taken the boat out of the water and was preparing to take rescued animals back to Tylertown when they heard a dog crying. “We all just looked at each other, got the boat, put it in the water, and went to get him,” a rescuer says.

Within two weeks after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the floodwaters finally began to recede. Unfortunately, the receding waters did not make rescue efforts any easier.

“We went from boat rescues to boat-land rescues,” says a rescuer from Best Friends.

“We would start hitting dry spots by the end of the day. We would have to get out, wade through the water, carry the boats over, and then get moving again.”
Cats weren’t always agreeable to being rescued.

“I held onto them for the rest of the time — just held onto them and loved them,” a Best Friends team member says.

“The city had never completely flooded like that, so a lot of people’s reactions probably were: ‘We have to evacuate, but we’ll be back in a few days. We’ll just leave the dog in the backyard, give him extra water and a big bowl of food, and we’ll be back in a few days …” – a Best Friends rescuer
People came from all over the country to volunteer their time and talents.

Best Friends’ base of operations: Tylertown, Mississippi

Best Friends helped get the St. Francis Animal Sanctuary established in 2000 and it was on this 38-acre property that Best Friends set up runs and housing for dogs, cats and other animals rescued from the flooded streets of New Orleans.

At any one time, the Tylertown sanctuary had about 75 volunteers helping to care for the rescued animals. In all, more than 2,000 people stepped up to help.

More than 3,000 pets came through Tylertown.

When the temporary sanctuary closed down in May 2006, all the animals Best Friends had cared for were either reunited with their people, placed in new homes or brought back to Best Friends.

Not a single pet was left behind.

“I’m very proud of the work we all did together down there,” says a member of the Best Friends rescue team. “There was no ‘self’ there. There was only this huge task and these lives to be saved. It wasn’t about us at all. It was all about the babies.”

Once given food, water and TLC, many of the animals recovered quickly. Those with serious medical needs were flown to areas where they could be examined by specialists.
Crates were used primarily to bring rescued pets from New Orleans to Tylertown. When the animals arrived in Tylertown, they were assigned to a specific area at the sanctuary.

Unsolicited donations of pet food, pet carriers and other supplies poured in from around the country on an almost hourly basis.

Once they safely arrived at the temporary sanctuary in Tylertown, rescued dogs were able to relax.

Not surprisingly after the trauma they’d been through, some of the displaced pets had behavioral issues.

A Best Friends animal behavior consultant worked with many of these animals and took on the difficult task of helping them trust again.

“We had some fantastic animal handlers,” says one of the rescue team. “We had people who could calm the animals down merely by talking to them. These dogs were scared, and of course they were missing their people. So we’d let our best handlers be with them one-on-one, and they’d get them to a place where they could relax enough to eat, sleep and receive medical care.”

Best Friends created a process for every animal brought to the Tylertown sanctuary.

Every pet was examined, vaccinated, microchipped, photographed and given a new collar and ID tag. Details about where the animal was found were recorded in a database to facilitate reuniting pets with their families.

The St. Francis Animal Sanctuary was divided into several areas. Smaller dogs went to Toytown, larger dogs went to Pooch Alley, and cats were assigned to three sanctuary buildings.

“If an animal could be saved, we would make sure it happened.”

– a Best Friends rescuer

“They are unconditionally loving. These dogs had been through a rough time, but with a little love and care they turned around. You could see it.”

– a Best Friends rescuer

When a pet was reunited with a family, someone at the sanctuary would beat a pot with a spoon, making a gong-like sound. “Everybody would gather around. People took pictures, folks were crying, and it was always a big thing. It was important to do — to say there was good that was coming out of all the effort.” – a member of the Best Friends rescue team

Sheriff was found walking down a deserted New Orleans street.
An animal behavior expert the behavioral challenges of Sheriff, one of approximately 150 animals brought back to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.
Reuniting pets with their families was Best Friends’ ultimate goal, and made for some of the happiest moments of rescue efforts.
Cajun spent seven years at Best Friends before being adopted in April 2015.

Best Friends runs the nation's largest no-kill sanctuary for companion animals, as well as lifesaving programs in partnership with rescue groups and shelters across the country.

Working together, we can Save Them All®.

Created By
Jennifer Harrington

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