The Greatness of a Nation

August 29th, 2006 2:29 pm by mad mags

1836 people dead (and counting). 705 missing. 770,000 displaced. An estimated $96 billion in property damage. Approximately 100 square miles of coastal wetlands destroyed.

Hurricane Katrina was the third-deadliest storm in U.S. history. In hours, it transformed New Orleans from a multicultural mecca of 485,000 into a Third World city, and created the “biggest refugee crisis since the American Civil War.” A year after the fact, I’m still horrified by the images borne of Katrina. It’s a scene you’d expect to see in Sudan, maybe, or perhaps India. Not in a developed nation, a world superpower.* Not here. Surely not in 21st century America.

Gross negligence and utter incompetence at all levels of government – local, state, and federal – helped transform Katrina from a destructive force of nature into the shame of a nation. Evacuation efforts were long overdue and woefully deficient. While a city drowned, our FEMA director set dinner dates, mulled his media appearances, and admired his Godly wardrobe. While a city drowned, our Dear Leader talked Medicare, strummed a gui-tar, and had him some cake. While a city drowned, 20,000 residents packed the Superdome, the “refuge of last resort.” While a city drowned, evacuees were given an impossible ultimatum: leave the city without your animals – or don’t leave at all.

In the chaos of last-ditch mandatory evacuations and rising floodwaters, tens of thousands of companions animals were left to fend for themselves. Some never had a chance: cats trapped in crates and dogs tied to fences drowned, alone. We’ll probably never know how many animals perished in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The Louisiana SPCA estimates that 15,000 companion animals were rescued in the months after the storm. The lucky ones – 20%, at most – have been reunited with their families. Others found new homes, scattered across the nation. A significant number sit in foster homes and shelters, waiting for their new lives to begin. On this one-year anniversary of Katrina’s landfall, hundreds of stray and abandoned dogs and cats still roam the streets of New Orleans.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Concern for animals does not negate one’s concern for humans, no more so than does recognizing the equality of women to men lessen the lot of males. Rather, the recognition of the intrinsic worth of all beings elevates our moral status. By protecting and caring for the most vulnerable among us – children, the poor, the mentally ill, the elderly – we’re showing our humanity. It’s easy to make a beneficiary of one who is (or will some day become) your benefactor; harder still to extend your circle of compassion to the weak, the vulnerable, the powerless. And there is no group more vulnerable than non-human animals.

They are our guardians, our protectors, our confidants. Our friends and companions. For many, they are family.

Yet, more than any other disenfranchised group, animals were tossed aside like so much property. Along with bikes and toaster ovens and television sets, they were left to Hurricane Katrina. They were sacrificed so that their “owners” might live.

To anyone who’s ever loved an animal, it’s a foolish proposition: either abandon your animal, or die with him. Many New Orleanians chose to stay. Perhaps Katrina’s death toll would not have been so devastating had people been allowed to evacuate with their “pets.” Besides, it’s not as if the Snowballs of New Orleans would have taken seats that otherwise would have gone to human evacuees. No, there’s no excuse for our government’s cruel and inhumane “no pets” policy. To abandon an animal in any other situation is a crime; in the state of Louisiana, such neglect is considered cruelty to animals, punishable by up to six months in jail. Yet, for the United States government, it is a matter of policy.

Almost a year after Katrina, and shortly before the passage of the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, evacuees were again forced by the US government to leave their animals behind. The setting: the war zone of the Israeli/Lebanese border. Though other nations allowed their citizens to flee the bombing with their beloved animals, Americans were told to leave their furry family members behind. To this. Clearly, talk about “lessons learned from Katrina” is so much lip service. Our politicians** have learned nothing.

If it’s true that “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” – and I believe it is – then the US has a long road to travel before we can rightly call ourselves a “civilized”, “developed” nation.


On this anniversary of Katrina, I’ll be spending the day with my four furry “children,” tossing the tennis ball, tugging on a knotted sock, maybe reading in the North field while the red one digs for moles. In the months after the storm, Shane and I volunteered to foster a few displaced animals, but Best Friends never took us up on the offer. I suppose two open spots in Kansas wasn’t terribly helpful. If our landlords allow it, though, we’d love to open our home – and our hearts – to one or two dogs, permanently. Every adopted animal opens up another spot; maybe for a Katrina survivor, maybe not. It doesn’t matter to me either way – even your run-of-the-mill abandoned, abused, and neglected strays need a family of their own.

And hey, if they say no, the least we can do is donate the money we’ve budgeted for adoptions fees and rental deposits to a Gulf Coast animal rescue group. Or two or three.

It’s time for me to wrestle up some sloppy wet kisses from my animals. If you’d like to make a donation of time, money, or supplies, skip to the end of this post for a list of candidates. Otherwise, read on.


* This isn’t to suggest, of course, that such a tragedy is acceptable when it happens to The Other. Suffering is suffering. Rather, the failure of our government to protect its own citizens is, well, shocking. And disillusive. Shockingly disillusive. I’d never call myself an optimist, but even I was taken aback by the massive failure of our politicians in the face of Katrina. How are we supposed to help other, less fortunate countries when we can’t even protect our own from a foreseeable disaster? Clearly, we can’t, as evidenced by the current mess in the Middle East.

** Democrats and Republicans alike, because speciesism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, and “ism” in general, are all non-partisan failings.
Hurricane Katrina: In Pictures

Hurricane Katrina - August 28, 2005

Hurricane Katrina on August 28, 2005, 1:00 PM EDT.
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August 29, 2005 – Aerial of a flooded N.O. neighborhood.
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August 29, 2005 – President George W. Bush joins Arizona Senator John McCain in a small celebration of McCain’s 69th birthday, after the President’s arrival at Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix. The President later spoke about Medicare to 400 guests at the Pueblo El Mirage RV Resort and Country Club in nearby El Mirage. *
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August 30, 2005 – Stranded.
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August 30, 2005 – Our Dear Leader.
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August 30, 2005 – The American Flag remains in front of a home flooded by Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans is being evacuated as a result of floods caused by Hurricane Katrina.
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August 31, 2005 – Three dogs waited for rescue in Pass Christian, Mississippi, one day after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast town. The dogs were later saved by a local police officer.
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September 2, 2005 – A fire burns in the distance in a neighborhood impacted by Hurricane Katrina.
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September 3, 2005 – A dog swims through flood waters in a neighborhood affected by Hurricane Katrina.
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September 3, 2005 – Surrounded by litter left by refugees, a dog remained tied to the railing of a highway ramp in New Orleans six days after Hurricane Katrina. Like many of the city’s newly stranded pets, the dog may have been refused passage by rescuers as they evacuated its owners.
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September 3, 2005 – A giant message board helps people locate friends and loved ones at the Reliant Center in Houston, Texas.
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September 4, 2005 – This man refused to evacuate the French Quarter because nobody would let him take his 40 chickens into the shelters. New Orleans is being evacuated as a result of flooding from hurricane Katrina and is still 60% under water.
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September 4, 2005 – A lost pet receives care from the V-MAT at New Orleans airport where FEMA’s D-MATs have set up operations.
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September 5, 2005 – People who were trapped in their attics by floodwaters had to kick out the windows in order to escape and call for help.
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September 5, 2005 – FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force members and local rescue workers and US Coast Guard, search for residents in neighborhoods impacted by Hurricane Katrina. **
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September 5, 2005 – This part of Slidell was flattened by Hurricane Katrina.
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September 6, 2005 – Near New Orleans, a small oil-slickened dog was seen wandering in Chalmette, Louisiana, as cleanup crews recovered oil from a ruptured refinery tank. Tens of thousands of barrels of oil had spilled and mixed with receding floodwater from Hurricane Katrina.
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September 8, 2005 – A pig and a dog displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
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September 8, 2005 – Some residents were convinced by troops to evacuate ten days after hurricane Katrina. ***
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September 8, 2005 – Stray dogs found in areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina are placed in carriers to be brought to a main location by the humane society. The FEMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams are helping out.
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September 9, 2005 – Many animals lost during Hurricane Katrina were taken here to the Lamar Dixon Expo Center where they will be looked after by veterinarians. Hundreds of lost dogs are among the animals sheltered here, and many need medical attention. Every attempt will be made to locate the owners before they are adopted out.
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September 10, 2005 – Rescued animals from New Orleans arrive at New Orleans airport where FEMA’s DMATs have set up operations.
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September 16, 2005 – This neighborhood remains flooded two weeks after the storm came through. The foul smelling flood water is contaminated with petrol chemicals, house hold chemicals and biological hazards.
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September 16, 2005 – Roy Krueger from the “Missouri Boon County Urban Search & Rescue Task Force 1” rescued this kitten from an empty house. It’s now on the way to animal rescue.
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September 17, 2005 – FEMA Urban Search and Rescue workers wait in line with their rescue dogs to see a veterinarian that has come to do checkups on dogs going into areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina. ****
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September 18, 2005 – Damage to homes and property in Lower 9th Ward due to Hurricane Katrina. Markings on house were from the Search and Rescue teams searching for survivors following the storm – the date searched, time, who the search party was, survivors found and animals still in the house.
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September 2005
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February 10, 2006 – Former FEMA Director Michael Brown testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. *****
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February 19, 2006 – Members of Best Friends Rescue join the parade down Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras with some of the animals abandoned and rescued from Hurricane Katrina. This organization rescued about 4,000 animals. Hundreds were reunited with their families and most of the rest placed in foster/adoption homes and in the care of humane groups around the country.
Animal Rescue New Orleans - Pee Wee

May 26, 2006 – True or False: It is not possible that anyone could be still looking for a pet at this point in New Orleans, eight months after Hurricane Katrina. “Bigtime FALSE!”, says Pee Wee, who was recently reunited with the Pelas family…
Dark Water Rising

June 25, 2006 – Dark Water Rising: The Truth About Hurricane Katrina Animal Rescues, available through
Not Left Behind

July 25, 2006 – Not Left Behind: Rescuing the Pets of New Orleans, available from Best Friends Animal Society.
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August 22, 2006 – A note left behind by residents, is seen pinned on the wall of a house destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, next to a portrait of Jesus, in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans.
Animal Rescue New Orleans Screenshot

August 24, 2006 – As you can see from this recent screenshot, animal rescue efforts are still underway in the Gulf Coast – nearly one year after Hurricane Katrina hit. Local groups were devastated; Hurricane Katrina destroyed many of their facilities, and left them with thousands of abandoned and orphaned animals to care for. If you can, please consider donating your time or money to an animal rescue group such as Animal Rescue New Orleans or the Louisiana SPCA today.
Kinship Circle - It's Not Over

August 24, 2006 – From the beginning, Kinship Circle (led by Brenda Shoss) was one of the go-to sources for Katrina-related animal rescue info. A year later, and their work is far from over. To learn what you can do, please visit their Hurricane Katrina resource page, and be sure to download their Animal Rescue New Orleans Disaster Relief Manual (.pdf). At the very least, print out a full-size image of one or more of their Katrina posters and hang it in your library, community center, college dorm – you get the idea.
Rescued: Saving Animals from Disaster

August 28, 2006 – Rescued: Saving Animals from Disaster, available from


* Gives the phrase “Let them eat cake!” a whole new meaning, dontcha think?

** This photo is one of three nearly identical shots on FEMA’s site. The captions on each are identical, and none mentions the stranded canines. I wonder if the poor guys were rescued, or left for dead? Quite telling that the caption-writer didn’t think that this was an important question to address.

*** Full FEMA caption:

“Some residents were convinced by troops to evacuate ten days after hurricane Katrina. They have been here without electricity or tap water. New Orleans is being evacuated due to flooding by hurricane Katrina.”

Well, you douchebags, if you had allowed residents to evacuate with their pets, this man probably could have been “convinced” to leave ten days ago. How disingenuous – can we say “blaming the victim”?

**** The FEMA photos of working dogs are especially egregious. After refusing safe passage to thousands of companion animals, our government has the stones to send search and rescue canines into areas “contaminated with petrol chemicals, house hold chemicals and biological hazards,” thus putting their health in danger. Given our lack of consideration for non-human animals, where the fuck do we (as in the collective “we”) get off, making such huge demands on them?

***** Michael Brown, Fashion God.

****** My entire Hurricane Katrina photoset can be viewed here:
Hurricane Katrina: In Pictures (Commentary)

With few exceptions, the above pictures were taken directly from FEMA’s web site. As I browsed through the thousands of Katrina-related photos, two facts became glaringly evident.

First, Katrina’s animal victims were almost completely missing from the picture: not only were there very few photos of abandoned and/or rescued companion animals, but the captions on these photos told little, if anything, of their fate. Of those pictures that featured an animal of some sort, a significant portion either 1) included a human, who was the primary subject of the photo, or 2) depicted a working animal (for example, canines involved with the search and rescue teams or, less commonly, police horses), not an animal victim of Katrina. Given the government’s failure to consider non-human animals during their (half-assed) evacuation efforts, this is hardly surprising. Just as FEMA officials didn’t give two shits about animals before, during, or after the crisis, neither did FEMA-sponsored photogs. (As an interesting side note, almost all of the animal photography is credited to the same few photographers; whether this is a consequence of the photographers’ assignment or interest, I have no idea, but it makes for an engaging topic for follow-up.)

Secondly, FEMA’s photography – particularly their more recent photos – paints an overly-rosy picture of the Gulf Coast. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they’ve whitewashed the tragedy, they do seem to feature an overabundance of positive photography – that is, pictures and captions that highlight the success of rescue efforts in the immediate aftermath of the storm, and speak to a Pollyannaish view of reconstruction efforts to date. Clearly, there are plenty of grim pictures: boats of refugees, elderly residents evacuated from homes surrounded by floodwaters, stray animals roaming the streets. Many of these are shown in the above selection. Yet, the most negative pictures I posted – particularly those involving animals – I’ve gathered from other sources. Some images that I found were simply too disturbing for me to include. Bloated human corpses floating among debris. Dogs feeding on their deceased owners. Stray pets with chemical burns. “Backyard dogs” who were strangled on their tethers when Katrina hit. No, you won’t find any of that on FEMA’s website. And the view from is simply conspiratorial.

“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”

(With no disrespect meant to real sheep and wolves, of course. I don’t want to stereotype or anything.)

This November, take the images of Katrina to the polling booth with you. A change of leadership is long overdue.
Hurricane Katrina: ‘Round the Net

Luckily – and bear with me while I toss out yet another quote – the truth is out there. If you’d like to browse through more Katrina photography – pre-, mid-, and post-Katrina, there are plenty of citizen-journalists willing to oblige.
Here are just a few web sites and/or online collections that caught my attention:

Photos from Katrina

Katrina Underground

Hurricane Digital Memory Bank

City Pages: New Orleans – Survivor Stories Flash Flood

ABC News: Katrina Devastation – One Year Later

The Psychotic Patriot: What Do You Remember About Katrina?

WaterThread: Katrina – The Gathering
Additionally, online photo-sharing sites have become a great tool for animal rescue groups. The following individuals and groups on Flickr are dedicated to animal (and human) aid in the Gulf Coast:

Yepitsme770 (59,589 photos and counting)

Spirits Mom (22,903+ photos uploaded)

Operation Bring Animals Home (a grassroots search and rescue group)

Signs of Life Book (a group to which members could donate photos to be used in a Katrina-related eBook)

Katrina Relief Auction (a pool to which members donated photographs, which were then auctioned off to raise funds for Habitat for Humanity, The United Way, The Americares Foundation, and The Humane Society of the United States; now closed)

Hurricane Katrina (a pool of over 4,854 photos)

Katrina 2005 (a smaller pool of 885+ Katrina images)

New Orleans (a group dedicated to shots of NO)
Hurricane Katrina: Lending Support

It seems fitting to conclude this post with a list of resources for those of you who’d like to donate your time and/or money to help those affected by Hurricane Katrina. Because animals are my thing, it’s only natural that I focus on animal rescue organizations.

“Caring about innocent animals caught in Katrina’s wrath doesn’t diminish human suffering. It makes us human.”
Groups Involved in the Rescue Effort

American Humane Association

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)

Animal Rescue New Orleans

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Dogs Deserve Better

Houston SPCA

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)

International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)

Kinship Circle

Louisiana SPCA

Noah’s Wish

Psychology Volunteers for New Orleans Animals and Their People

United Animal Nations (EARS)

(In other disaster-related news, many of the above groups are also involved in current animal rescue efforts in the Middle East, should you prefer to make a donation benefiting animals overseas. On the other hand, if you’d like to support an indigenous animal rescue organization, Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (BETA) and Concern for Helping Animals in Israel (CHAI) are both good choices.)
Additional Resources

My archive of Katrina alerts (on; dates back to August 2005)

My archive of Katrina alerts (on; dates back to June 2006)

Best Friends Network: Hurricane Relief Community

Kinship Circle: Help for Katrina’s Forgotten Victims

Pet Finder: Hurricane Katrina Animal News

PETA’s Helping Rescuing Katrina’s Forgotten Victims

Unconditional Friends: The Pets of Katrina, One Year Later

The Carnival of Hurricane Relief
As always, feel free to share your comments / questions / resources below.
Note: Speciesist and otherwise trollish comments will be summarily deleted. Today, especially, I’m in no mood to tolerate the bs.
(Crossposted at and spb.)

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4 Responses to “The Greatness of a Nation”

  1. spb » Blog Archive » The Greatness of a Nation Says:

    […] The Carnival of Hurricane Relief     As always, feel free to share your comments / questions / resources below.     Note: Speciesist and otherwise trollish comments will be summarily deleted. Today, especially, I’m in no mood to tolerate the bs.   (Crossposted at and   […]

  2. Kelly Says:

    FYI: Signs of Life, mentioned under the “Hurricane Katrina: ‘Round the Net” heading above, is now available for purchase online. See: Thanks to Eric for the heads-up!

  3. How come the neocons aren’t showing up to support John McCain & George Bush? « White Noise Insanity Says:

    […] (pic…check out the other Katrina photos on this site…and to think John McCain & George Bush were eating cake while our fellow Americans were drowning in their attics on the Gulf Coast!) […]

  4. Smite Me! [.net] » Blog Archive » The Greatness of a Nation Says:

    […] The Carnival of Hurricane Relief     As always, feel free to share your comments / questions / resources below.     Note: Speciesist and otherwise trollish comments will be summarily deleted. Today, especially, I’m in no mood to tolerate the bs.   (Crossposted at and spb.)   smite me! These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]

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