Five years later, Katrina leaves legacy for pets, strays in the city

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by Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on August 25, 2010 at 10:22 PM

Updated Wednesday, Aug 25 at 10:22 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- Among the hard lessons handed out by Hurricane Katrina includes one that ended up dramatically highlighting the shared fate between pets and their owners.

"Both people and animals lost their lives because we didn't have law, as well as just procedures in place, for people who had pets in the evacuation process," said Ana Zorrilla of the Louisiana SPCA.

In the past five years, though, some positive changes have taken hold. The storm prompted the passage of laws -- both federal and state -- addressing the needs of pets in emergency evacuation plans.

"2008 was our first real test, during Hurricane Gustav, when it was the first time the city of New Orleans had a mandatory evacuation and there was a provision for pets to be evacuated with their people," Zorrilla said.

Those new plans worked then, but old problems remain, especially when it comes to stray animals in the city. Some residents say the problem started shortly after the storm.

"It was a little scary, especially along some of the levee areas -- you'd see packs of dogs," said resident Kathy Lynn. "So, there were some real issues after Katrina."

An overpopulation of strays, present before the storm, is on the rebound once more.

In 2005, before Katrina, the SPCA estimates there were about 11,000 strays in the city. That number plummeted after the storm to about 5,000.

"Certainly, immediately after the storm, there were a lot of animals that did not survive," Zorrilla said. "So, there was a window of time, when they're weren't as many strays roaming the streets because a lot of them perished in the storm."

Since then, the number of strays has climbed each year. In 2010, the SPCA estimates it will reach 9,000 in the city.

The New Orleans City Council recently passed an ordinance that requires owners to have a permit for pets that are not spayed or neutered. It is one step that some hope will catch on to help keep the homeless pet population below its pre-Katrina levels.

"I would love for people to be responsible for their animals and the way that they treat them, as part of the family and part of the community and teach that to their neighbors," said Lisa LeBlanc of Algiers Point.

One of the other lessons from Katrina showed the importance of microchipping pets, in case they become separated from their owners. The SPCA rescued 15,000 pets after the storm, but they were only able to reunite a fraction -- about 25-percent -- with their owners.

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