Harvey is Not Katrina - Lessons From the Trenches
As I sit here, comfortably in my home in Minnesota, watching news of the devastation in Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, a storm of historic magnitude and record-setting on many counts, I can't help but think about another record storm that hit nearly exactly (almost to the day) 12 years ago: Hurricane Katrina. The images are so similar ... the flooding ... people in shelters ... animals in boats ... I cannot help but to flash back to my time spent coordinating rescue teams in New Orleans 12 years ago. Collectively, my staff and volunteers spent more than 6 months with boots on the ground in the affected area following Katrina. Those days still haunt me, for many reasons. One thing I know for certain is that Harvey is no Katrina. Not that the storm is not as severe, it is. Not that the impact will be less, it could be more, because Houston is a huge metro area.
The most important differences are because what we learned in Katrina is being applied during Harvey.
Most importantly: following Katrina, a sizable group of people (including myself) worked diligently to ensure that the PETS Act was passed into law, providing safety and shelter for people and their pets in disasters. During Katrina, pets were forcibly taken from their evacuating families at gun point. Following Harvey, pets are being welcomed into evacuation shelters. Though there were some false starts, and some families with pets were initially kept out, a federal judge quickly set that right and gave notice that pets were to be accommodated. That has led to proactive life-saving of unprecedented proportions. When people can bring their pets with them, they are more willing to take shelter. If they can't, they often don't and needless human and non-human loss of life results.
After Katrina, we found several live pets curled up next to their dead owners, who died, because they could not leave their pets behind. The scope of that should be dramatically less (hopefully) in this current disaster.
The Chief of Police of Houston appears to be a man who refuses to have a Katrina-level disaster on his watch. He has been vocal about warning people that if they chain or abandon their pets during this emergency, they will be prosecuted. He is saying that because pets are family, and shelters will take them, there is no excuse for abandoning them. There was no comparable counterpart to him during Katrina. And, people and pets died in and around New Orleans 12 years ago because of that.
A family with a pet at an evacuation center in Houston, Texas
Another thing that, at least so far, seems to have been done away with in Texas is the old hierarchical command and control structure of the rescue effort during Katrina... a structure that gave undue power and influence to large, national organizations that bankrolled millions that they did not spend on Katrina rescue efforts. This same structure actually kept many smaller groups from helping during Katrina. In Texas today, Houston has opened their City parks that are on high ground to any rescues wanting to come help and camp out. And, smaller groups are stepping in to help, including local No Kill groups, like Austin Pets Alive, Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter and even out-of-state groups like No Kill Colorado.
One thing that has not changed is that there are profiteers in the animal field who will seek to raise money off this disaster, while doing too little to help. So, donate wisely, my friends.
My current list of recommended groups who can use your support: Austin Pets Alive
Stay safe, warm and dry, hug your pets and donate today.