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.
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.”
"She was completely listless when I found her, but she recovered well when we got her to safety."
– 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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
“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