Hurricane Katrina Animal Rescue Facts

Hurricane Katrina Animal Rescue Facts

Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans on August 29, 2005 as a category 5 hurricane. This storm brought to light many issues surrounding animals:

  • Animals have to be included in evacuation plans on a local, state and national level. This not only saves animal lives, but humans lives as well. 
  • Reuniting pets with their owners is critical in times of disaster. Without being able to reunite pets and owners, shelters quickly fill up and chaos ensues.
  • Katrina brought the pet overpopulation problem in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to national attention.
  • Katrina revealed that the human-animal bond is an essential part of our lives – and during time of disaster, it’s as critical as food, water and shelter.  

In 2006, we successfully lobbied for the passage of House Resolution 3858, better known as the “Pet Evacuation Bill.” Now, governments on all levels are required to include companion animals in their evacuation plans.

Evacuate

We successfully evacuated all 263 animals from our Japonica Street shelter in the Ninth Ward well in advance of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall.

It’s estimated that roughly 259,400 families owned pets in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina. There was no formal evacuation plan for those needing assistance or for those with pets. As many as 104,000 pets were left behind to weather the storm and its aftermath.

Based on a poll conducted by the Fritz Institute, 44% of people did not evacuate for Katrina because they refused to leave their pets behind. 

For those that chose not to evacuate and were rescued by first responders during the aftermath, they were not permitted to take their pets either. 

At least 88,700 pets went unaccounted for. No one knows exactly how many animals died during Katrina but most estimates put the number between 50,000-70,000 across the entire Gulf Coast. 

Rescue

Our Japonica Street shelter was destroyed during the flooding that followed Katrina and a shelter had to be created out of thin air for the animal rescue efforts. After communicating with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, a shelter was created at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, Louisiana, 60 miles west of New Orleans near Baton Rouge. The Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, normally an equestrian center, became the largest animal shelter and animal rescue operation in U.S. history. 

We officially re-entered New Orleans to begin animal rescue efforts on August 31, two days after Katrina.

Within a matter of days, more than 7,000 addresses were on our rescue list and thousands of animals were being rescued. Staff, exhausted and suffering from their own personal losses, we called upon partners from across the country for help.

By October 15, 2005, approximately 8,500 rescued animals came through our rescue center at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.

Thousands of animals were transported to other states by more than 40 rescue groups because the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center filled over capacity and no single facility in the state was large enough to house every animal. 

It’s estimated that over 15,500 animals were ultimately rescued.

A lost pet database was created to help reunite rescued pets with owners. Unfortunately, clear documentation identifying where animals were found and transported was sorely lacking, a casualty of the City’s infrastructure being destroyed and communications compromised, the chaos of the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center and some rescue groups operating outside the system. 

Reunite

Of the 15,500 animals rescued, only 15%-20% were ever reunited with their owners. Although it appears a low percentage, it fares better than the national average of 10%; but for the owners searching for their pets percentages hardly matter. 

In the coming years, several lawsuits arose when rescued pets were adopted before their owners were able to locate them. The last filed lawsuit was closed in 2014, nine years after Hurricane Katrina. 

In Louisiana, our pets are a part of our culture as much as anything else. And for more than 130 years, the Louisiana SPCA has been an advocate for all our furry friends across the state. Follow our Lead and show the characters of Louisiana you care by supporting the Louisiana SPCA.

The Louisiana SPCA helped more than 2,000 animals find their forever home in 2019.

Did you know that we’re not affiliated with the ASPCA and rely on local donations?