An American Opera Goes on an American Tour

Friday, September 4th, 2009

An American Opera (Poster)

This past weekend marked the 4th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Four years ago last Saturday, Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, causing untold property damage, environmental destruction and loss of life from Florida through Texas. At least 1,836 humans died, victims of nature, government ineptitude and indifference, and racism and classism. The number of nonhuman animal victims will never be known.

Though I didn’t observe the occasion here in writing, the anniversary didn’t pass me by unnoticed. The weekend’s birthday celebrations were bittersweet; while spoiling my dog-kids with homemade treats, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the many dogs who perished in the storm and its aftermath – some of them murdered in cold blood, by people who should have been their protectors.

A year after Katrina, I marked the day with a sort a photo retrospective, which I titled “The Greatness of a Nation,” after the much-loved Mahatma Gandhi quotation. Three years later, I don’t have much to add, so I invite you to go check it out if you haven’t already.
 


 
The past four years have seen a number of books and films made about Hurricane Katrina; see, for example, Douglas Brinkley’s The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast (2006); Jed Horne’s Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great American City (2008); and Josh Neufeld’s A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge (2009). Many of these projects have focused on animal rescue efforts: Mike Shiley’s Dark Water Rising: Survival Stories of Hurricane Katrina Animal Rescues (2006); Best Friends’ Not Left Behind: Rescuing the Pets of New Orleans (2006); Cathy Scott’s Pawprints of Katrina: Pets Saved and Lessons Learned (2008); and even children’s books, such as Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival (2008).

Released in 2007, Tom McPhee’s An American Opera: The Greatest Pet Rescue Ever! is a documentary recounting the spontaneous and titanic efforts undertaken by local and national animal activists to rescue the nonhuman animals caught in Hurricane Katrina’s wake:

Tom McPhee’s An American Opera: The Greatest Pet Rescue Ever! is a multi-award winning documentary film chronicling what happened during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana when pet owners were forced to evacuate without their pets. An American Opera follows the pets, vets, owners, officials, rescuers, and adopters of animals as they try to remedy the situation, revealing that not everyone had the same goal of saving animals. Tom McPhee directed, narrated, and produced the film with the production companies Man Smiling Moving Pictures and Cave Studio.

Interviewing leaders of animal organizations and volunteers who went to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, it is revealed that at the beginning, everyone had different ideas about how things should be done, but no one was willing to take charge because the problem was bigger than anyone could have imagined. The film champions the volunteers whose only concern was saving animals, unlike the animal organizations who were more concerned with the chain of command.

After about a month, the state put the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in charge who told the volunteers to stop rescuing. Anyone not with the LA/SPCA was considered ‘rogue’ and operating outside the authority. Meanwhile, the police in St. Bernard Parish were shooting dogs in what they say was a form of mercy.

Months after Katrina, many owners are still not reunited with their pets because they do not know where they are and do not have the means to find them. Some people have found that their animals have been adopted out and cannot get them back.

The film ends with Barkus, a Louisiana pet parade, indicating New Orleans was not washed away with the hurricane.

(More below the fold…)