After Hurricane Katrina, a Better Awareness of Pet Safety

The lessons we’ve learned since 2005 are a big step forward for those of us who would do anything for our pets.

A dog swims through floodwaters in New Orleans a few days after Hurricane Katrina. By: Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA
A dog swims through floodwaters in New Orleans a few days after Hurricane Katrina. By: Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA
Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

Hurricane Katrina dealt a tragic blow to the country 10 years ago, displacing thousands and killing more than 1,800 people.

Among the victims were the many pets left behind during a chaotic evacuation.

hurricane-katrina-10yrsThe emotional damage suffered by Hurricane Katrina’s victims from the loss of pets became clear. Even further, it magnified the problem of not having a well-constructed evacuation plan for companion animals during a disaster.

In a tragedy most of us can hardly imagine, an estimated:

  • 104,000 pets were abandoned, often unwillingly
  • 70,000–150,000 pets died
  • 15,500 pets were rescued
  • 88,700 pets were unaccounted for

Heartrending stories of separation and loss circulated around the world, and the animal-loving community was horrified. We saw the role of pets as family members clash with their treatment by aid workers and officials who were instructed to forbid evacuees from bringing their animals.

This video shows the story of Bubbles, a dog who was found after being left behind in a closed home for 7 weeks:

Why Weren’t More Pets Saved?

Ivor Van Heerden, a hurricane researcher who helps direct disaster preparedness, says pets weren’t a part of the simulated evacuations because “they are not considered to be important.”

New Orleans was evacuated 10 years ago, leaving behind:

  • Dogs
  • Cats
  • Rabbits
  • Ferrets
  • Livestock
  • And more
By: infrogmation
Would-be rescuers marked where they found pets who didn’t survive. By: infrogmation


Our bond with animals has evolved to a point where they are more than just companions — they are family. It didn’t go unnoticed when so many families were torn apart in the aftermath of the deadly hurricane.

“Amid the chaos emerged one of the most enduring bonds — the human/animal bond,” says Louisiana SPCA CEO Ana Zorrilla.

The overwhelming response to the injustice led to the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, signed into law by President Bush on October 6, 2006.

What you should know about the PETS Act:

  • It includes household pets and service animals in state and local disaster preparedness plans.
  • It accounts for the needs of pets during all stages of disaster relief, including sheltering after evacuation.
  • It gives authority to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to fund efforts to create facilities for evacuees with animals.

In the past decade, “Government agencies and animal welfare groups have improved coordination efforts,” according to a recent article from the Associated Press, which added: “The lessons from Katrina helped prevent Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the Jersey shore in 2012, from becoming catastrophic for pets.”

These developments are a big step forward for those of us who would do anything for our pets, including choosing to remain after a natural disaster rather than abandon our pets. Families are no longer having to make that impossible decision.

How to Prepare for Disaster

The PETS Act may guarantee your pet’s right to accompany you during an official evacuation, but being personally prepared before disaster strikes is a necessity.

This dog was rescued from an abandoned house in New Orleans. By: Alex Charnevsky

Even if you don’t live in an area that is typically at risk of natural disaster, you should still be ready. According to the Louisiana SPCA, your pet evacuation checklist should include:

  • Food and water
  • Medication and medical records
  • Collar with ID and leash
  • Crate or carrier
  • Litter, trash bags and cleaners

Evacuating With Pets


  • Prepare supplies before disaster strikes.
  • Have an escape plan to get everyone (pets included) safely out of the house.
  • Try to remain calm.
  • Stick together.
  • Find shelter that is pet-safe (consider nearby motels).
  • Contact friends/family only after you are safe.


  • Don’t separate from the rest of your household.
  • Don’t leave without supplies for pets and people.
  • Don’t leave your pets behind.
  • Don’t refuse to evacuate.
  • Don’t ignore warnings or directions from evacuation authorities.

What’s most important in a natural disaster is to be prepared ahead of time. Do your research today and always include your pets in your plans.

From Disaster, a Better Awareness

The damage and emotional trauma caused by Hurricane Katrina is a hard way to learn from our mistakes. But in the aftermath, a better understanding of the importance of pets and the need to keep families (pets included) together during an emergency will keep this type of loss from happening again.

Let’s hope none of us will ever find ourselves in a disaster on the scale of Hurricane Katrina, but planning today for evacuation is the safest way to keep your family safe and together should disaster strike.

Allison Gray

View posts by Allison Gray
Allison Gray gained a wealth of knowledge about animal welfare issues and responsible pet care during her nearly 5 years of work for an animal shelter. She is a writer, photographer, artist, runner and tattooed remedial knitter. Allison also has been researching, testing out and perfecting nutritious pet treat recipes in her kitchen for Petful since spring 2017.

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