Seven years ago Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf of Mexico, laying waste to much of New Orleans when the levees failed. Fred Leslie lost his home in that hurricane.
When Hurricane Isaac hit the Gulf of Mexico this year, Leslie and many of his neighbors ignored evacuation orders, remaining in their homes for the predicted Category One hurricane, which are considered much less of threat to building structures than bigger hurricanes. When the levees were breached, however, Leslie found himself trapped in his house with his four dogs.
You can watch Leslie’s rescue in this amazing video. In it, 70-year-old Leslie is pulled by firefighters from his attic and into a rescue craft. And in a show of improved disaster procedures, Leslie’s four dogs are pulled from the home as well and welcomed into the safety of the boat with their owner. Seven years ago that part of the video probably would not have happened.
When Hurricane Katrina hit, rescuers—ill-prepared to deal with companion animals—prioritized people over pets, and thousands of animals perished or were never reunited with their families. People were forced to abandon their pets, and some, refusing to do so, lost their lives alongside their animals.
Those lives were not lost in vain, though. After Katrina, Congress passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, which requires that any state receiving aid from FEMA must make provisions for evacuating and sheltering people’s pets.
In the calm before the storm, the ASPCA and other animal organizations and agencies erected emergency shelters, and pet owners rushed to get their four-legged companions ID-tagged and microchipped so that happy reunions would outnumber loss in the wake of Isaac. Sites like Petfinder.com readied themselves to assist in connecting lost pets with their families.
As for the animals in the affected areas who went unspoken for, the Humane Society of the United States helped transfer them to shelters in other states so that homeless as well as owned pets could weather the storm in safety.
So while the tragedies of Hurricane Katrina are still heartbreaking, we have learned from past disasters and made room for our furry friends. Fred Leslie may have lost a second home to another hurricane, but in that moment of fear and chaos, he didn’t have to make the decision to abandon members of his family. Instead, his dogs were treated with respect and welcomed into rescuer’s arms.
Would you know how to care for your dog or your cat if a natural disaster—say a tornado or a hurricane—was bearing down on your home? Tell us in the comments.
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Liz Acosta is a writer, artist, and activist living in San Francisco. She likes to practice what she calls "accessible activism," doing what she can to change the world. She loves dogs, photography, bicycles, IPAs, and Britney Spears.