Animal-rights organizations surveying hurricane-stricken regions of Mississippi and Louisiana say they are battling a crisis with abandoned and hungry pets on the loose, and health issues related to animals killed in the storm.
Several groups have sent teams of animal-rescue specialists to the hardest-hit regions. Louisiana and Mississippi have “huge animal concerns,” said Melissa Seide Rubin, vice president of field and disaster services for the Humane Society of the United States.
“I think it’s going to be absolutely enormous and the worse we’ve seen,” Rubin said.
The Humane Society established a temporary animal-rescue shelter in Jackson, Miss., and Rubin said it appears that many local animal shelters were destroyed in the storm. Some of the animals left behind drowned as New Orleans’ levees broke and deluged large parts of the city.
Scattered reports said the New Orleans Zoo and the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas survived with minor damage, and only the deaths of some flamingos.
But in Gulfport, Miss., the storm destroyed the Marine Life Oceanarium. As the storm neared last weekend, operators of the huge aquarium moved six bottlenose dolphins to a nearby hotel swimming pool, where they survived the storm and were taken this week to Walton Beach, Fla. Nine sea lions from the Mississippi park were sent to Sea World in Orlando, Fla.
The Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals closed its New Orleans shelter after the storm hit, and moved 260 animals it held to Houston SPCA facilities.
Rescue groups reported that road closings and storm damage made it difficult to get into the hardest-hit regions. The California-based animal-rescue group Noah’s Wish said its team set up operations in Slidell, La., this week.
“Almost everyone we talked to this afternoon had a story to tell of an animal,” said Terri Crisp, founder and director of Noah’s Wish, in a message posted on the organization’s Web site. “Unfortunately, many of the stories were of animals that were left behind when people had to evacuate. People are getting desperate to find their animals.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it will take weeks to determine the effects of the storm on the region’s wildlife. The agency announced this week it is closing 19 Gulf Coast wildlife refuges to the public. Preliminary surveys concluded that no Wildlife Service employees were missing, but some of the agency’s buildings were damaged.
(Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)SHNS.com)