NEW ORLEANS — Animal rescue teams have been working for days rounding up injured animals and abandoned pets after Hurricane Ida forced evacuations and left more than a million customers in the city without power.
Deborah MacDonald and Andy Seltz with the Michigan Humane’s Animal Search and Rescue team came from Detroit to help. The group is specially trained to conduct rescues during disasters.
Four teams were out in the city for several days, responding to calls, collecting whatever animals they can and taking them to shelters and getting them the care they need.
On one day alone, the teams made 77 runs, MacDonald said.
“Everybody was making trips back to the shelter, back to the shelter,” she said.
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Despite the high number of calls of abandoned or injured cats and dogs, animal rescue has become more streamlined in recent years.
“There’s a lot more structure to response now,” MacDonald said. “We’re not randomly breaking in houses because we hear something bark. And that’s what we saw in Katrina. Animals that didn’t need to be removed were removed and they never got reunited with their owners.
“That’s just too sad. They’ve been through too much to lose their animals.”
A lot of shelters evacuate ahead of a storm now, MacDonald said, but the animals keep coming.
Seltz said the teams work through a list of non-emergency calls, but if an immediate need arises, the calls get pushed back to handle the emergency first. Prioritizing response calls is much easier now.
“We got integrated into the SPCA’s radio communication system,” he said. “We’re using their radios, so it’s really interesting. We don’t know where we’re at. We don’t know where we’re going half the time so we’re relying on GPS to get around.”
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MacDonald has been working with animal rescues for more than 33 years, including during hurricanes and tornadoes, floods and chemical spills.
Rescue during Hurricane Katrina was difficult and strenuous. It was also very stressful, MacDonald said.
“I don’t know if there will be anything like Katrina,” she said. “Especially for the animals. There were no guidelines. There was nothing in place and so many animals were in danger that they just came in by the trailer loads, just over and over.”
MacDonald said Michigan Humane ASAR is a training facility for animal rescue organizations.
“For the last couple of years, FEMA has laid out some guidelines for typing teams and resources for animals, which has been helpful,” she said. “It’s also sent out guidelines and training requirements for animal rescue services because a lot of people were going in unprepared, untrained and putting themselves and others in danger.”
Photojournalist Mandi Wright of the Detroit Free Press contributed to this story.