The Evacuation Begins

Kat’s Story, Part 2: The Evacuation Begins

In Part 1 of Kat McCann’s story, we left off where Blackie and GrisGris were the two cats living with Kat. Today Kat shares with us the story of evacuating during Hurricane Katrina. On Thursday, we will learn the conclusion to her tale of survival.

I want to thank you for reading Kat’s story. These posts are longer than usual, but I personally found Kat’s story riveting and I hope you do, too.

The Evacuation Begins

By Kat McCann
Edited by Three Chatty Cats

2016-08-23_Silhouette05Three weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, my boyfriend at the time (who will remain unnamed) and I decided to move from our apartment. The one we were moving into turned out not to be ready for us in time. So, we put the bulk of our items in storage, and we stayed with our friends Nona, Karl and their dog Happy (not their real names).

We saw Katrina heading closer and joked about how we could stay in our storage unit, as it was above ground, climate controlled, and had a generator. Two days before the storm hit, Nona and Karl decided to head for Alexandria, Louisiana, where Karl had family. They gathered everything they could carry and basically told us to get out.

My 60-year-old sister Jane, who lived on the westbank in Gretna, Louisiana, insisted that we come to her house for the night so we could decide what to do from there. With Jane, lived my 82-year-old mother, Anne, and my 41-year-old nephew, Glenn. Jane also had Max, a Doberman.

The next day, the storm was looming large, and we decided that we must evacuate. We called shelters to see if we could bring our animals, but we were told NO. Especially when they learned that we had a 90 pound Doberman and two black cats.

We really had no place to go and bring our pets back then, which is why so many pets were abandoned.

I called my vet to see what could be done, and he told me that they could not take on the responsibility of anyone’s pets. But he advised me to make sure that I had all of their papers, and he said to be sure that their rabies tags were securely attached to their collars. Luckily, I am reasonably well-organized and I happened to have kept with me a waterproof file with all my important papers! But my guys were not microchipped. (Today, all of our cats are microchipped!) And because they were inside cats, they didn’t have their tags on their collars. Luckily, I had their tags with me, so I attached them.

We talked to our relatives in Georgia. Between family members, they were willing to provide us with safe haven. So, we packed ourselves up – me, the boyfriend, GrisGris and Blackie into my Honda Civic. And Jane, Mom, Glenn and Max (the Doberman) into her Blazer.


The Journey to Atlanta

I only had one carrier at the time. Back then it wasn’t as important for me because GrisGris was used to riding in the car. He settled down in the back seat on our journey, and Blackie was happy to be in the carrier alone. I had the walking harness on GrisGris during our evacuation, and I had an aluminum pan with litter on the back floorboard, along with food and water.

Whenever we stopped, I let Blackie out to use the litter, and I attached a leash to her collar. If GrisGris wanted to stretch his legs, I would pull around to the less busy areas of the rest stop and let him walk with his harness.

And so we went. But it wasn’t as pleasant for the humans.

We had to endure a 24-hour ride to Atlanta from New Orleans. This usually is only a 7 to 8-hour ride! Because of the way that the evacuation routes were planned, we had to sit for hours at a time with no exits. We had prepared ourselves with snacks and toilet tissue, but we had not prepared for our mother. She could not go “in a pinch” – and I think it was one of the most embarrassing moments of her life to have to walk into a roadside rest stop with wet pants. We also had only packed for a week. We really thought that we were going to be back shortly to New Orleans.

And that is one of the reasons why so many people left their beloved pets. They thought they would be back quickly. Everyone looked at the track of the storm and said that it would miss us. It would go into Mississippi (which it did), and New Orleans would get wet, but would be OK! Or so we thought!

People set up their pets with food and water for at least a week and left. Mainly because they had no place back then that would take them with their animals. Also, because some websites had said that this was the safest thing to do, since animals were not allowed in shelters. This has since changed. Now shelters in Louisiana must accept pets with papers in proper carriers. All of ours now have their own carriers and papers!

When we finally arrived in Atlanta, after 24 hours of hell, we found a dry space, room for the animals and soft beds. We saw the weather reports, and it seemed like maybe we had reacted too soon. The storm had lessened when it hit, and it had not hit New Orleans dead on. We could head back home once we were rested.

The Unimaginable

2016-08-23_Silhouette03.pngBut the next day, something strange happened. I was watching the NASA weather satellite when it did – New Orleans started flooding! The levees broke! I was watching when the satellite showed it, and I watched in horror as it played out. The water kept rising and rising…until I didn’t think it could rise anymore!

During the next week, we found out that while my sister’s house stayed dry, the power was definitely out for a while. We couldn’t go back there right away. The apartment I had come from and the one I was going to move to were GONE. The friends that we had been staying with before evacuating were staying in Alexandria. The boyfriend left two days after arriving in Atlanta. I had no idea what was going on with me, my friends or my home. I just knew that my family was OK because I was with them – and the kitties were OK. I did not know where my friends were, or how they were doing, but I just wanted to figure things out, one day at a time.

So, there we were – me, my family and our pets. We knew that my sister Jane’s home at least did not flood. In fact, most of Gretna, Uptown New Orleans and the French Quarter did not flood. The portions that did flood were devastated and gut wrenching to see. In fact, we did little over the next few days but watch the news.

It Can’t Get Any Worse, Can It?

The day after we had arrived in Atlanta, my mom fell and broke her hip. She had to have surgery and an extended stay in the hospital and rehab. I credit the evacuation with shortening her life. I would have done anything for her not to have endured that 24-hour car ride! So, it was a double whammy when the boyfriend decided he was bailing on the situation the next day – off he went to his mother’s in Florida.

I was staying with one of my nieces, but things were getting uncomfortable. By then I knew from travelling in the past that Comfort Inn and Suites are pet friendly. So when FEMA funds became available, I moved to a Comfort Inn with GrisGris and Blackie. Nothing can ever be simple though, right? We had to switch rooms in this pet friendly hotel because the first room was infested with fleas and ticks from a group of hunting dogs. But the rest of my time in Georgia was spent there, and that room became my refuge.

And I needed that refuge. Almost all of my relatives were talking to me about moving back to Georgia, where I had grown up.

“Come on home,” they would say. “You’ll have to start over, but it’ll be OK.” I tried to explain to them that New Orleans is my HOME, and I was going back HOME.

I was able to reach out to the Georgia SPCA to see what was going on with the pets left in New Orleans. I was told that they sent a group of people to the city to be kind of the first responders for pets. Several local SPCAs around the country did this, and I will always be grateful for that.

Over the next few weeks, the National Guard was sent in to restore order. We heard that the SPCA had set up a temporary shelter in Gonzales for pets, hopefully to arrange for them to be reunited with their owners when they returned.

Jane and I decided that I would move in with her and help her take care of Mom when she was able to return. I started to hear from friends who had evacuated and survived, but most had left their pets behind.

We were all anxious to return. Finally, we were told that Jane’s neighborhood had power, and we decided to return home.


Please come back Thursday to read the final part of Kat’s story and learn what happened when she returned home.

Pet Disaster Preparedness Resources
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  1. My heart still breaks for what New Orleans went through with Katrina — so much of it inexcusably inept bureaucracy. The only consolation (and I don’t imagine it is for them) is the lessons that were learned for the future. Though I’ve got to say, I was there in 2011 and, while there were still plenty of reminders of Katrina, the resiliency of that city and the sheer awesomeness of the locals, will always be with me. Can’t wait to hear the rest of the story!

  2. An amazing story – I hate the thought of evacuating and like Kat, I would never leave my pets behind – but I don’t fault those who did and still do. People who truly love and care for their pets will always do what they think is best for them, even if it turns out to be not a good thing. I live in a hurricane prone area so these thoughts are ever present in the summer. Thank you for sharing her story.

  3. Wow. It’s one thing to see the stories on tv or read them in the paper – but another entirely to hear all the emotions and minute details that those venues usually leave out. I can’t wait to see how the story ends!

  4. We’re really glad you were able to take your kitties with you. We can’t ‘magine bein’ left behind. Not somethin’ we’ll ever have to worry ’bout but we know it happens too offen.

    Luv ya’

    Dezi and Raena

  5. We are on the edge of our seats waiting for the end of the story. What a terrible time for all the people and animals of New Orleans. We are happy that Kat, Blackie and GrisGris were safe. XOCK, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Jo

  6. This is riveting and I can’t wait for next week. So glad they all got out safely, but I feel sick over all those pets left behind. At least, now many more people, relief organizations, etc. take pets into account in emergency planning.

    I feel so sad for her mom. My father is elderly and I can’t imagine how he could make this kind of trip. That must have been such a helpless feeling during the 24 hour ride from New Orleans to Atlanta.

  7. Oh my I was horrified but I am in awe of Kat’s strength!! This is such a valuable lesson for all of us. I can’t begin to imagine the devastation that she experienced, both personal and with property and all. Can’t wait to read the rest!

  8. I can’t even imagine going through such a thing. Kat is a very brave lady and I commend her for doing so much to keep her family (human & animal) safe. Leaving my pet(s) behind would never be an option for me either…I would stay behind and we’d weather the storm together if that was the only choice.

  9. I am very sorry that this ordeal shortened Kat’s mother’s life. I am glad to see that the shelters in Louisiana will take pets now.

  10. Wow what an amazing story, and so touching that Kat stood by her pets to the end… I can’t imagine being apart from my fur babies. I’ve had dreams about being separated from my cats in a disaster and it’s the scariest feeling. I can’t wait for the conclusion in Kat’s story.

  11. I went to NOLA after Katrina with a group of journalists and the horror stories people told us were never to be forgotten. Many lost homes, pets, and loved ones. Many more were displaced and suffered great hardship. This is even more tragic as we see what is happening to Baton Rouge right now. It seems that they are not getting much attention for the state of emergency and size of the disaster. It is just heartbreaking.

  12. What happened in New Orleans after Katrina was beyond heartbreaking for everyone and everything and for a while, I think the whole world stopped and watched and prayed that things would be alright……..personal stories bring it all home to everyone though – the struggles and sadness so we are enjoying Kat’s story. We feel so blessed to have not gone through anything like this although everyone should know things happen ANY TIME, ANYWHERE so being prepared is so important. Thank you for sharing…………

    Hugs, Sammy and Mom Pam

  13. This is utterly heart-wrenching. Kat’s fortitude and strength are amazing; thank you for sharing her story here for all of us to read.

  14. What a nightmare this must have been. It makes Granny very aware that my things have to be ready to go. We are happy that you could take your animals with you, only the thought of leaving them behind, teared us up. Pawkisses for a Happy WW :) <3

  15. This was so terrifying to hear about on the news when it was happening. We can’t imagine what it was like to live through! We’re looking forward to reading the rest of the story next week. Thank you again for sharing it.

  16. So sad, fraught, tense, stressful…. we can’t imagine how horrendous it must have been…


    Basil & Co xox