Ten years later: Reflections on Hurricane Katrina

Working in the aftermath of the worst hurricane to hit American soil in modern times was a humbling experience, to say the least. Katrina’s impact on lives (both human and animal) was immense, as was its impact on the entire Best Friends family, including staff members and volunteers who played a part in the aftermath. Katrina also forced changes in official disaster response protocols, especially as they pertain to pets.

As onlookers around the world were transfixed by the suffering, watching helicopter rescues unfold on live TV, many were horrified to learn that far too many residents had to make an unfathomable choice between saving their own lives and leaving their animals, or staying with them and endangering them both.

The ensuing public outcry led to Congress passing the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act in 2006. The act requires that local counties, in order to qualify for federal relief funds, must have a pet evacuation plan in place in the event of a disaster. The PETS Act has changed the way local and federal disaster response teams relate to pets and pet owners in every natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina.

Best Friends provided shelter and medical care for more than 4,000 pets from the New Orleans area, as well as transportation to safe haven for another 2,000 animals from the area around Gulfport, Mississippi.

My experiences in the wake of Katrina were life-changing, and I believe the same is true for everyone who stepped in to help. The effect on the victims of such a storm is unimaginable, and there are images that will stay with me forever. Some of those images are of immense joy as families were once again reunited with their pets after many months of believing they would never see their family member again. And, of course, I also recall images of immense heartbreak, as pets caught up in the storm were tragically unable to make it.

I’ve worked on a couple of pieces about Katrina for the September/October issue of Best Friends magazine, which will be hitting mailboxes this week, so keep an eye out for your mail carrier. If you’re not receiving our bimonthly magazine, you should be! Every Best Friends member who donates $25 or more per year receives the magazine as a thank-you for your support of our no-kill mission. If you want to join us, you can click here to donate right now.

Hurricane Katrina was truly devastating, but the storm also united animal lovers the world over around a shared ideal — that the lives of all pets matter and they deserve a chance at life. That ideal has always been our belief at Best Friends, and it remains true today.

Thank you for helping us to Save Them All.

Francis Battista