The Greatness of a Nation

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

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.

(More below the fold…)

Kinship Circle: AUGUST 29 – For The Animals & Their Rescuers

Monday, August 28th, 2006

UPDATE, 8/29/06 – Please also go to Kinship Circle’s web site to view this email, complete with pictures and comments from readers!

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Kinship Circle – info [at]
Date: Aug 26, 2006 8:10 PM
Subject: AUGUST 29 – For The Animals & Their Rescuers

August 29 – One Year Ago This Day
By Brenda Shoss, Kinship Circle

August 29, 2006 marks the day, exactly one year ago, Category 5 Katrina cast people and animals adrift in a sea of loss and despair. When the levees broke, a singular scream arose from dark waters, drowning out reason. Erasing hope.

Who would hear their cries, scattered over rotting roads and toxic heaps?

Who would see their desperation — locked behind doors, bound to fence posts, stranded on rooftops?

Whose hands would heal their anonymous pain?

At least 600,000 searched for familiar faces. But frantic eyes turned cloudy with despair when no one came. Broken bodies collapsed. Huddled inside bathtubs. Hiding behind walls. Their skin, now paper-thin, stretched over bones. A last tail wagged. An unheard purr rose from the rubble and merged with the wind.

Who would hear them?
Our government did not.
Who would see them?
Our law enforcers did not.

Who would return for them?

You did.

And with your eyes, they were seen.

With your voice, they were heard.

With your hands, they knew comfort.

With your conviction, they were fed, rescued, and reunited.

With your resolve, they found new homes.

With your mercy, they saw love before death.

With your empathy, all were cherished and remembered.

You came from California, Canada, Texas, Minnesota, St. Louis, Washington, Florida… even as far away as Sweden. A legion of the compassionate. Shelter workers, veterinarians, students, cops, soldiers, moms, sons, daughters, grandparents… Giant burly men and fierce lean women. You left your jobs, your families and homes to salvage lives forgotten in the wreckage.

August 29, 2005 – August 29, 2006.
Our lives are forever united in tears, grief, chaos and renewal.
August 29, 2005 – August 29, 2006

(More below the fold…)


Monday, August 21st, 2006

I saw the following story on Yahoo – it was posted on an anti-AR mailing list, of all places! – and just thought I’d share. The one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is fast approaching. Please take a moment to “think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight,” and consider making a donation to Best Friends, BETA, or another animal rescue group to help the (non-human) animal victims of natural (and man-made) disasters.

Jazz Funeral for Pets Lost to Katrina
New Orleans holds jazz funeral, memorial service for pets lost to Hurricane Katrina

NEW ORLEANS, Aug. 21, 2006

By JANET McCONNAUGHEY Associated Press Writer

Katrina Pet Memorial

Some came to the jazz funeral memorial march with photographs of pets lost in Hurricane Katrina’s floods or aftermath. Others came with just their memories.

Earl Madona and his fiancee, Maggie Smith, brought a giant dog mask and two stuffed animals to symbolize their three dogs, two of them lost in the floodwaters.

They were among about 100 people who gathered Sunday night on the Esplanade Street median for a 10-block walk to a memorial service at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church. Some marched with their dogs.

“It’s just a nice way to pay tribute to all those that were lost so horribly, you know, all those that suffered,” said Gail Langos, who was walking with her dachshunds, Merlin and Muffin. […]

Before the march began Sunday, the Rev. Bill Terry of St. Anna’s Episcopal Church spoke briefly with members of the Treme Brass Band. “You know what to do,” he told them. “You’ve done it a million times before.”

Later, he told the crowd: “We’re New Orleans. This is how we mourn.”

Jazz funeral marches traditionally start with a dirge for the mourners’ sorrow, then move into an uptempo celebration of the loved one’s life and salvation.

This time, the march stepped off to a slow rendition of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.”

There was a bit of silence. The drums rattled briskly, and the band swung into “Just a Little While to Stay Here.”