The TV images of Hurricane Katrina’s animal victims – like the dog trapped alive inside a home for days due to burglar bars – bring to the fore a long-overlooked issue: the welfare of domestic animals during disasters. Judging from official policies, or the lack thereof, one might get the impression the people in charge could care less about our animal friends.
One related story in particular has caught the attention of many people in this country – that of a young boy whose dog Snowball was taken away from him by police as he was being evacuated from the Superdome. The incident left the boy so distraught he became physically ill; many of us experienced the same feelings out of disgust.
Consider also this theoretical scenario:
An 80 year-old widow, whose only companion since her husband died 10 years ago has been her lapdog, is trapped in her house during a storm and needs to be rescued. Forcibly separating this woman from the dog would certainly be shameful, and quite possibly irreversibly harmful to the very person the rescuers are trying to help.
Why is this painful practice necessary? The answer from public officials, if any, is that there are other priorities during a disaster. But we’ve been dealing with natural disasters in this country since its founding, and we still don’t have an acceptable plan to deal with pets. Isn’t it time to start looking at this seriously?
For many of us who have or have had pets, they’re not a possession but a full-fledged family member. When our golden retriever Ginger was alive, my family needed to move, but wouldn’t even consider moving anywhere dogs weren’t permitted. It was not an option. And I don’t think disaster personnel should be making some people choose between their medications and their pets, as has been reported.
I imagine some of the people who are refusing to leave New Orleans under mandatory evacuation orders are doing so out of concern for their pets, who must typically be left behind. I’m not sure if I’d do the same, and I hope I never have the chance to find out. I do know that I can’t blame any of those people for their stubbornness.
So, what’s a relief organization to do about pets? Perhaps those with pets would have to share any provisions (food, water, etc.) with their pets. Or perhaps they’d be limited in the belongings they could take with them to a shelter. Or perhaps a humans/animals emergency shelter can be set up, or an animals-only shelter where pets are left to be cared for temporarily. If smart minds would come together and discuss this issue I’m sure some acceptable solutions would be developed. Yet I’ve never heard of any efforts to do this on an official level; it’s still not any kind of priority.
I would implore government officials, heads of relief organizations and owners of businesses such as hotels to consider the welfare of our “best friends” when disaster strikes. Show your humanity, lest it go “to the dogs.”
9/9 ADDENDUM (pets mentioned as rationale for some holdouts): http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/09/09/katrina.evac.ap/index.html