On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall. At first, many in south Louisiana felt they had dodged a bullet; we had weathered the storm. Then the levees began to fail. Many of those who evacuated the New Orleans-area before the storm, left their pets at home; before Katrina, this had always been fine. However, with so much of New Orleans under water, people were not allowed back into the city to rescue their pets. Instead, hundreds--perhaps thousands--of volunteers rescued animals and provided for their care until their owners could return for them.
Even if someone did evacuate with their pet, they could not bring the pet into an emergency shelter or found that they could not bring the pet to a hotel. Again, volunteers stepped in to help. Two shelters for animals were created: the shelter at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzalez, La., was for rescued animals, and the shelter at the LSU AgCenter John M. Parker Coliseum on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge, La., was for pets that accompanied their owners who evacuated.
Veterinary students were integral in the initial start-up of the shelters. The LSU
School of Veterinary Medicine created an educational block in Shelter Medicine for
Year IV students to earn credit for their work in the shelters. People from across
the country shipped
thousands of pounds of pet food, medical and health supplies to support both the animals and the volunteers.
Statewide, more than 8,000 animals were cared for in temporary shelters during the largest pet rescue in the history of the U.S. Two of those shelters are described below.
Lamar-Dixon Expo Center
Created for animals rescued by volunteers from the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, the Louisiana Animal Response Team, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and a myriad of animal welfare groups including the Humane Society of the United States, the Louisiana SPCA, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and more.
The LSU Equine Health Studies Program implemented a Horse Hurricane Helpline for horse owners with questions regarding rescue, shelter and veterinary care. The Hurricane Equine Rescue Operation teams of LSU equine veterinarians and staff, private equine veterinarians and numerous volunteers were deployed daily. Hundreds of horses and mules (plus more than 300 pets) were sheltered at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.
We deployed between one and seven teams daily beginning on Friday, September 2, 2005, once we were granted access into the affected areas.
LSU AgCenter's John M. Parker Coliseum
The LSU AgCenter’s John M. Parker Coliseum is a shelter for owned pets, meaning that owners who evacuated brought their pets to the shelter or they were brought in by veterinarians who had to evacuate clinics in the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.
The shelters at Parker Coliseum and Lamar-Dixon have been open for 24 hours, 7 days
a week since August 31, 2005, Parker Coliseum took in over 500 pets within the first
48 hours of operation. Two thousand animals went through this animal shelter, with
the peak happening on September 12 with 1,287 animals.
People from all across the country sent thousands of pounds of pet food and other
supplies to help in the animal recovery and shelter efforts.
The majority of the pets at the Parker Coliseum were dogs, followed closely by cats. However, the Coliseum also sheltered a pig, ducks, chickens, ferrets, mice, birds, and tortoises. Dogs were housed in horse stalls and in kennels in the middle of the arena. It had a dirt floor, so mats had to be put down to keep dirt out of the air. Cats were housed in the air-conditioned corridor surrounding the arena. The only other air conditioning was in the conference room used as the operations center.
Hundreds of reporters from around the world came to the shelters to document the support efforts.
LSU School of Veterinary Medicine and Veterinary Teaching Hospital
The LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, along with local and out-of-state veterinarians
and veterinary technicians, provided volunteer veterinary care at animal shelters
at the LSU AgCenter’s John M. Parker Coliseum and the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center. LSU
SVM faculty, staff and students rescued animals and provided medical care as needed.
Veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and veterinary students from the LSU School
of Veterinary Medicine donated countless hours to the shelters. Additional volunteers
came from veterinary clinics and schools from all across the country and Canada. The
School of Veterinary Medicine set up sleeping areas in the Veterinary Medicine Building
for some of these volunteers, as hotels in and around Baton Rouge were filled with
evacuees and other volunteers.
The LSU School of Veterinary Medicine created an educational block in shelter medicine
for its fourth-year students so that they could get credit for time spent in the animal
shelter. This educational block has continued since then.
The School’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital tripled its case load following operated its intensive care unit 24/7 at near capacity, and, at times, over capacity to accommodate shelter animals. A secondary ICU was set up to handle these additional cases, many of which the hospital treated at its own expense.