Shelter from the storm
Laura Maloney and one of the pups she rescued after Hurricane Katrina. Photo by Steve Majors
They are the lost victims of Katrina -- dogs, cats and even birds who had no shelter from the storm. Ten months later, they are still being found on the streets of New Orleans -- some are filthy, emaciated, and starved for human contact. The woman whose staff and volunteers have rescued thousands of them is Laura Maloney. I met her recently while researching a different story on custody disputes over pets. She informed me, though, that there's a much bigger story to be told about the fate of pets and their owners since Katrina.
Maloney is considered to be one of the heroes of Katrina. According to historian Doug Brinkley's book, "The Great Deluge," she carried out a complicated plan to tag, cage and safely transport hundreds of shelter pets to Houston just hours before the storm. Brinkley wonders why a city with many more resources failed to do the same for its sickest, oldest and poorest residents. Today, Maloney shrugs off that comparison. She only knows she had a responsibilty to save her animals. And she did.
Her focus now is on helping traumatized pets find new homes. But she and her staff spend just as much time counseling and consoling pet owners who come to the shelter. Many struggle with sadness and guilt after losing their pets in the storm. Maloney's job is to connect grieving humans with grieving pets. The new bond eases the pain for both. But there is still more work for her.
Thousands of animals drowned, starved or died of disease in the days after the storm. In the rush to evacuate and then save stranded citizens, they were left behind. Maloney estimates that with the help of groups from across the country, she rescued 8,500 pets from the floodwaters. But Maloney says many more could have been saved, if only their owners had made plans. And so that is why she is already preparing for the next storm, should it come.
In the past few months she's helped lobby for the passage of a statewide pet evacuation bill. And she's educating residents about how they can find safe shelters for their cats and dogs. Maloney hopes that next time, she's not characterized as the one-woman saviour of cats and dogs. She'd prefer every owner to be a hero and save their own.
As she cuddled in her arms a post-Katrina puppy, born in the streets of New Orleans, she told me the story of another Katrina dog named Lassie. Lassie was being fostered in a home in Maryland after the hurricane. A few month's ago, Lassie's owner came forward and the reunion finally occurred last week in a scene worthy of a Technicolor classic. Lassie came home. Maloney says it was an emotional moment for everyone.
She hopes the other orphaned pets in her care get the same kind of homecoming. But for now, she'll watch over her Noah's Ark of animals with the knowledge that they at least will always have shelter from a storm.
To learn more or find ways that you can help, visit www.la-spca.org.
Read more from NBC's Gulf Coast recovery files, Steve Majors
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