August 28 marks the 4th anniversary of one of the most devastating hurricanes this country has ever seen. What became of these beloved animals?
Estimates vary, but over 50,000 furry companions were abandoned in the Gulf region by their guardians as they fled to higher, safer ground. Without a doubt, almost all residents anticipated returning to their homes and pets. Dozens of animal rescue organizations and individual volunteers from around the United States converged on New Orleans to assist in the local animal rescue and recovery and to fill the void left by the government who was ill-prepared to handle and in many ways thwarted these efforts. While most animals succumbed to the trauma and effects of the storm, approximately 10,000 were rescued and transported to other parts of the country where they found new homes or remain in shelters and animal sanctuarys waiting to be adopted. Despite their heroic attempts, these rescues were only able to reunite about 3,000 pets with their original families.
Several Chicago area animal welfare organizations participated in helping to find new homes for some these homeless dogs and cats. Val, a labrador retriever who was found barely alive, was lucky one of the lucky ones, having found his way into a loving home in Palatine. “He was a disaster when we first saw him with his soulful, lonely eyes and emaciated body,” recounts Val’s new best friend, Ilene Fine. “By the time he got to us in March, he was still only 40 pounds, had a malunited broken leg and was recovering from heartworm and numerous skin maladies.” Val now weighs in at a healthy 72 pounds and bounds about the house with his sister, Brandy, who was also a shelter dog. Both were adopted from Fortunate Lab Rescue in nearby Fox Lake (www.fortunatelabrescue.org). These former “down-on-their-luck pooches” now participate in pet therapy programs in their community and recently launched their “Real Dogs with Real Tales” stories in a series of picture board books for children. Ilene and her husband support may rescue organizations throughout the country, including the no-kill Animal House Shelter in Huntley (www.animalhouseshelter.com) but all proceeds from Brandy and Val’s Special Story are earmarked for Fortunate Lab Rescue as a way of saying thanks for bringing such special animals into their lives.
As for what will be the fate of pets when disaster strikes in the future? The PETS (Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act) was signed in October, 2006, mandating that local and state emergency management plans “include preparation for evacuating family pets and service animals along with their owners.” This federal law also “allows FEMA to provide funding to create pet-friendly shelters and assist with the development of localized emergency manage plans.”