When Katrina made landfall in the Gulf Coast in late August 10 years ago, she whipsawed a great American city and left hundreds of other communities in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama reeling. The human tragedy was immediately obvious, with nearly 2,000 dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. Increasingly, too, the animal tragedy, at first unnoticed, came into focus, and a terrible, urgent life-or-death reality set in.
In New Orleans and the surrounding areas, many pet owners heeded evacuation orders, leaving heaps of food and big bowls of water behind in their homes. They assumed and were assured that they would be able to return home in a couple of days. Others attempted to take their animals with them, only to be forced - sometimes at gunpoint - to abandon them in the streets before boarding evacuation buses. Farm animals were abandoned as well, left out in the fields. Then the levees failed, the streets flooded, the power went out, and the National Guard walled off what became a giant disaster zone, one in which tens of thousands of pets were trapped. It became a race against time, as we and others undertook the largest animal rescue operation ever.