When Hurricane Katrina cut a path of death and destruction through the U.S. Gulf coast, many animals were left stranded. Now, animal-rescue volunteers in New Orleans are doing their best to locate pets left by owners who fled the disaster. Thousands of animals have managed to survive since the hurricane devastated the city two weeks ago.
Humane Society volunteer Lee Bergeron says many animals remain in New Orleans.
"Thousands and thousands, and every time you turn around, there's 20 more," he says. "These Army National Guard guys, every time you stop, they hand you a list of 20 addresses where they know dogs are trapped in homes. It's overwhelming."
Jane Garrison of Charleston, South Carolina, is also a volunteer for the Humane Society. She and her colleagues have a list of more than three thousand addresses provided by pet owners who called to ask that their animals be rescued. So far, more than one thousand pets have been located and taken to shelters. But one shelter has closed its doors, unprepared for the overwhelming influx.
"So today it is a purely feed-and-sustain operation," Ms. Garrison says. "Feed the animals we find. If the animals are locked in a house, break a window and put food in."
As rescue workers locate the homes where animals have been reported, they gently coax them out of hiding. Most animals are traumatized, malnourished and frightened. Ms. Garrison finds a kitten hiding in a crawl space underneath a house.
"She is not in very good condition," Ms. Garrison says. "Definitely some type of respiratory infection, having a hard time breathing, clearly dehydrated. She may be about three months old."
National Guardsman Timothy Palmer has found many animals.
"Birds, fish, turtles, rabbits, dogs, cats. We found a little kitten yesterday," he says. "It followed us on patrol for about five blocks, and I think one of the residents might actually be adopting that cat."
The guardsmen say most of the residents who defied an evacuation order stayed for one of two reasons: to protect their property or to remain in their homes with their pets.
Local officials say stray animals could create a health hazard if left on their own, but Humane Society volunteers and the National Guardsmen who help them say they are moved by the plight of the animals, lost and separated from their owners.