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Pet owners praise LDAF pet evacuation efforts

September 11, 2008

Pet owners are praising the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) for its efforts to get pets out of harm’s way during evacuations for Hurricane Gustav.
Katie Pierre of Terrebonne Parish said LDAF-directed volunteers "were beautiful to my dog" during evacuations at the State Fair of Louisiana in Shreveport.
Pierre boarded a Shreveport-bound bus to escape Hurricane Gustav. Her shih-tzu breed dog, Max, boarded a climate controlled 18-wheeler and was transported to a pet-friendly shelter, also located in Shreveport.
The LDAF partnered with Louisiana State Animal Response Team (LSART) and other volunteer groups to set up pet shelters in Shreveport and Alexandria to help evacuees and their pets with critical transportation needs. National groups like American Humane, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Emergency Animal Rescue Service-United Animal Nations, Humane Society of the United States, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Noah’s Wish and numerous local humane organizations provided vital support throughout the hurricane event.
Commissioner Mike Strain, D.V.M., said Louisiana is the first and only state to initiate such a program for pets and their owners with critical transportation needs.
“We wanted to make sure that no one would have any reason not to evacuate,” Strain said. “That meant we had to set up a plan to move pets. People didn’t leave New Orleans during Katrina because there were no shelters that would take their pets.”
“We believe that lives were saved because we set up this pet evacuation program.”
Pet owners like Pierre who weren’t able to drive themselves out of the storm surge brought their dogs and cats to parish pick-up points and registered both themselves and their pets with the LDAF-LSART team.
Lap pets were allowed to travel on the bus with their owners. The larger animals were put in crates assembled by the inmates of Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson and trainees of Forcht Wade Correctional Center in Keithville. The animals not traveling with their owners were transported to Shreveport and Alexandria pet shelters in climate-controlled tractor-trailer rigs. The pet transport was followed by a vet-med team in a trailing van.
The pet truck stopped every two hours to allow for a quick health check of the animals by the vet-med team.
When the animals arrived in Shreveport they found a well-prepared shelter with proper security and a volunteer team to tend to the pets.
“The volunteers were a tremendous help,” said Martha Littlefield, D.V.M. “We could not have done this task without the help of numerous unpaid volunteers who took care of these pets like they were their own.”
Most pet owners were settled in nearby shelters and participated in the care of their pets.
“I was able to go and feed and walk Max,” Pierre said. “It was nice to be able to do something while I was in the shelter and the volunteers told me they would take good care of Max when I had to go back to Houma. They were beautiful to Max.”
Owners were expected to take care of their pets during the evacuation, Strain said.
“That’s what we wanted,” Strain said. “These weren’t stop and drop pet shelters. The owners were required to come in and feed their pets and take care of the animal’s needs.”
As the human shelters filled up, some pet owners were diverted to other shelters in different cities.
“We didn’t want it to happen that way, but there was no more room in the human shelters,” Littlefield said. “But we were prepared with volunteers and vet health professionals.”
Strain said 1,604 pets were evacuated from the coastal parishes. Most were from Orleans and Jefferson parishes, but they also came from Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Bernard, Calcasieu and St. Mary.
The breakdown was 200 cats, 1400 dogs, a rabbit, bird, guinea pig and a hermit crab.
The State Fair of Louisiana facilities housed 1,539 pets while the location set up at LSU at Alexandria had 65.
Forty percent of the animals traveled with their owners on the buses.
After the storm, most animals and their owners returned home quickly, but Terrebonne Parish was hard hit by Gustav and evacuees were delayed until utility services came back online.
It was necessary to close the Shreveport pet shelter so Terrebonne’s pets were housed temporarily at a pet shelter for two days at Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson.
“The inmates were well trained and knew how to work with the animals,” Littlefield said. “They took care of hundreds of dogs after Katrina and now they’ve helped Louisiana’s pet owners again.”
Forcht Wade trainees also helped care for the animals when they were in Shreveport.
Valerie Robinson, manager of the Terrebonne Animal Control Shelter, and her animal control team met Littlefield and the pets at the Terrebonne Parish Civic Center to reclaim Terrebonne’s pets on Tuesday, September 10. The animals had been away from home for more than a week. The LDAF-owned climate-controlled 18-wheeler was driven by LDAF firefighter Matt Cannon of Pollock
Robinson said the animal control shelter, normally used to house nuisance animals, would serve a different function for the next few days.
“The pet owners were so happy to see their pets,” Robinson said. “We had their phone numbers and back-up numbers because of the registration process. We’re glad to have been part of this plan and happy to help. The pet owners are very happy too.”
Littlefield said 29 dogs, including Pierre’s shih-tzu, were returned to Terrebonne.
“It was a tremendous effort by the LDAF, LSART and hundreds of veterinary professionals, volunteers and animal lovers,” Littlefield said. “We just wanted to help pet owners act responsibly.”
For more information on Louisiana’s pet evacuation program, visit