Natural disasters affect not only people but their pets as well. Beloved pets are considered members of the family, and to be separated from them is as distressing as if a family member were lost. Thankfully there are a number of trained, qualified, animal organizations that work in disaster areas to rescue, house and care for animal survivors of disasters, and to reunite pets separated from their families. During the Hurricane Katrina disaster relief efforts, the American Red Cross has provided support to one of these volunteer organizations, Noah’s Wish Animal Rescue, Inc. of Placerville, California. Compassionate volunteers from Noah’s Wish have rescued more than 1,200 pets separated from their owners by Hurricane Katrina.
Terri Crisp is the president of Noah’s Wish and heads their Hurricane Katrina relief operation in Slidell, Louisiana. “We set up operations here three days after Katrina hit,” she said. “Our 70 volunteers work closely with the Slidell Animal Control department to rescue stranded animals and pets separated from their owners. We bring the pets back here to the Slidell Municipal complex where we have been given the use of a large warehouse.”
At most shelters owners are not permitted to bring their pets. Red Cross shelters are designated to accommodate everyone, and that includes people with pet allergies, a fear of animals, children and infants and seniors. The risks of animal bites, fleas and other insects, pet-borne diseases and hygiene issues are not acceptable in the already stressful environment of a mass care shelter.
It is not uncommon for victims of disasters to refuse evacuation because their pets cannot come with them. Noah’s Wish provides a safe place for their pets to stay while their owners are also evacuated to safety, and until they can return home.
Noah’s Wish has rescued more than 1,200 Hurricane Katrina pets so far, including more than 700 dogs, nearly 500 cats, and 20 other species of animals from chickens and snakes to rabbits and horses. All are given a thorough check by volunteer veterinarians and are fed, groomed, and watered in separate, clean cages. Volunteers pamper their guests and walk them daily.
If the pet’s owners can be identified, they are notified so that the pet and family can be reunited when the family is able to return to a permanent home. Until that time, the pets can stay at Noah’s Wish shelter indefinitely. If the owners cannot be located, foster homes are found for orphan pets. Noah’s Wish has a strict “no kill” policy.
“We have been able to locate owners for nearly half of Hurricane Katrina’s animals we have rescued,” said Crisp. “Nearly 200 pets have been able to go home with their owners, and others will leave us as soon as the families have a place to go home to.”
The American Red Cross recently helped the Noah’s Wish pet rescue operation in Slidell. The Israeli government donated a number of 20’x30’ canvas tents to the American Red Cross to help in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, and Red Cross workers set up two of the tents at Noah’s Wish to store the mountain of pet food and medicine that is necessary for the pet shelter operation.
Noah’s Wish supply manager Sallysue Stein said “The Red Cross brought these tents at just the right time. We had no place to store our supplies out of the weather and this has greatly improved our capability to support the pet rescue shelter. Thank you, Red Cross.”
The Noah’s Wish pet rescue shelter is located near the Red Cross Slidell shelter for storm survivors. Several pet owners are staying there and come over to visit their pets. One 10 year-old boy has come every day for the last month to visit his dog who is staying at the shelter until the boy and his family can move back to their damaged home.
Tina and Kala Bollinger from Pearl River, Louisiana had a tearful reunion with Jazz, their beloved Dalmatian at Noah’s Wish on September 22, 2005. The Bollinger’s had gotten separated from Jazz in the rush to evacuate their home north of Slidell when Hurricane Katrina hit. They thought that their pet was gone forever and did not know that Noah’s Wish volunteers had found her. She had been safe and had been staying at the pet shelter for nearly three weeks.
A Noah’s Wish volunteer brought the Bollinger’s back to the cage where their dog was staying, and it was hard to tell who was more excited. Jazz jumped up and smothered Tina Bollinger in kisses, as Kala gave her dog a big hug. A very happy, united family left together for their home, one of many joyous reunions that Noah’s Wish has made possible.
The Red Cross recognizes the importance of animal companions to the mental health of human victims of disasters, and is happy to support organizations like Noah’s Wish as they extend the disaster relief for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Last updated December 29, 2005
Copyright © 2005, Allen Crabtree
Copyright © 2005, Allen Crabtree