I remember watching the news after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Day after day I was inundated with the images and sounds of pets left behind, of survivors unwilling to accept rescue if their pets could not go with them, of people on rooftops begging for water while they shared every drop with a beloved dog or cat, and the horrifying reality afterward: the death of thousands of animals forcibly left behind. While I’m certain that some of those people who escaped did so with little regard for the pets in their homes, the vast majority never believed the destruction would be so overwhelming and complete; subsequently, that same majority could never have known they would be away for so long because the city remained inaccessible. Believing some extra food and water would get their pets through the few days they themselves would be gone, the horror of reality set in when weeks and months passed before they even saw their homes again. By then, of course, the tragedy was complete.
It was then I made clear I would never leave The Kids regardless of circumstances (excepting sudden death or accident). If there is a disaster of any kind, they absolutely and always will be with me. If that means I must decline evacuation assistance and try to get out on my own, or ride it out at home hoping for the best, then so be it. As I said originally and as I feel now while I write this, “When I then try to imagine having to leave them under those circumstances, it’s so repugnant an idea that it strikes an emotional blow… […] And do not proffer the cheap adage that I cannot possibly know what I would do under those circumstances. That is analogous to saying that parents would likely leave their children under those circumstances if it meant a greater chance of survival. The circumstances change nothing.” Already, even with such a glancing consideration of it, butterflies infest my stomach as my heart begins to race. It is almost that the thought itself is abhorrent, an abomination to all that is right and good, and it will not be tolerated within me.
There were plenty of examples throughout the Katrina ordeal that expressed my feelings. Pets are family, and “I safely assume that we would not ask parents to leave their children behind so that more adults could fit their fat asses in the boat.” So said I then, so say I now.
Thankfully, and there is true joy and hope in this, governments are starting to get it.
State and local officials have begun setting up Louisiana’s new pet evacuation plan, required by a new law enacted to avoid problems that erupted when Hurricane Katrina struck last year.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed the bill into law on June 23. It won final House approval 93-0 and cleared the Senate 34-0.
The law is thought to be the first of its kind in the United States. It applies to cats, dogs and other domesticated animals normally maintained on the property of the owner.
What spurred the law were pet evacuation problems during and after Katrina that resulted in the deaths of thousands of cats and dogs. In some cases pet owners endangered their own lives by refusing to abandon their companions.
The people’s representatives at all levels should have the same kind of law on the books and implemented as soon as possible. That is what humane is: being humane to both humans and non-humans alike. In the face of calamitous loss of all that you own, could you also tolerate being told you must lose your pet(s) or lose all hope of assistance from your own government? I would hope not.
And as I did then, let me again close with Gandhi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”