PLEASE BE AWARE that this story will be hard to read for animal lovers, as Kat does recount some of the awful things that occurred during the disaster. But in her story, there is also hope as she finds a new feline friend. Kat’s story reminds us of the importance of being prepared in case of a disaster.
Thank you for returning and finishing Kat’s story.
By Kat McCann
Edited by Three Chatty Cats
After being in Georgia for about four weeks, we were finally told that my sister Jane’s neighborhood had power, and we decided to return to Louisiana. We arrived home on September 20, 2005. We came back to a much changed place. Destruction was everywhere!
Downtown skyscrapers with all of their windows blown out, many streets blocked off all together. If it weren’t for the military, the place would have been a ghost town. The images still haunt me, but I am sure that they haunt those more who were left behind.
When we got to our neighborhood, we were met by Old Joe. Joe was ex-military and a retired tugboat captain. He elected to stay after everyone else was told to go, because he was on higher ground, had his supplies, a generator, and he was armed. He had professed not to care one way or the other for animals, but he and his wife sure did feed the ones that were left behind. Another neighbor was a policeman; he and his wife did the same for the animals. We found that as many people who had left their animals with food and water, many more just let them run loose to fend for themselves.
Almost as soon as we made it back, we were told that Hurricane Rita was on its way. Jane and I stood our ground. We were NOT leaving again! Jane had a generator, and our neighbors helped us get it up and running. Most of Rita went into Lake Charles, and we were spared the brunt.
The Ugliness of Katrina
We started hearing stories about what had happened while we were gone. The military had to go door to door to look for survivors. They had to mark the door with an “X” to show they had been in a house. They also denoted how many people, if any, were found in the home, if they were found dead or alive, or a mixture of both. They were specifically told not to rescue any animals, and if they encountered an animal who threatened them, to “Put them down!” Many soldiers defied that order and simply set the animal free. Once the SPCA got there, they were able to start the business of rescue. But too many animals died – way too many!
There was a suburb of New Orleans on the westbank called Algiers. As a group, the neighbors decided to put up their dogs in a gymnasium, with plenty of food and water, and bleachers that they could climb up if it flooded. They had prepared for at least a month. They left a sign up that informed passersby what was inside. When the military arrived, they entered the gym and shot every dog! They claimed they felt threatened and were following orders.
There were other stories of military personnel evacuating the people but refusing to take the animals. There were many other volunteers who came to help, and they did what they could, but many were just not prepared for what they found.
I can’t continue recounting the ugliness of what happened to animals after Katrina. It was worse for many people! The lootings, rapes, deaths and the depravity was too much for some to bear. Many people decided to stay in the city they were evacuated to, and I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t wish what happened here on any other city in the world.
Starting Again and Making a Better System
It took a long time for us to rebuild – and many areas in the city are still not rebuilt, even after 10 years later. But some areas came back even better than before. And many policies have been changed because of Katrina.
No longer does the National Guard have orders to kill animals. Instead, they are encouraged to retrieve them. The SPCA has made great strides in how animals are treated. As I stated earlier, evacuation shelters now cannot deny a pet, as long as it is microchipped, has proof of up-to-date shots and a carrier.
Many animal shelters across the country accepted pets from our area. They tried valiantly to find the owners, and failing that, found them loving homes. No-kill shelters, such as Animal Rescue New Orleans, were started specifically for these abandoned pets. Regardless of the origins, these are good things. Our whole system is better because of Katrina.
As we went on rebuilding, my sister Jane returned to work, and my mom came home. I started working from home so I could take care of her. Friends returned, and many were reunited with their pets. One friend was fortunate enough to find that her cat had stayed close by her flooded apartment for six weeks. Thin, but healthy, and glad to see her! She never left her owner’s side again.
We settled into a quiet home routine. My room was large enough that we were comfortable – GrisGris, Blackie, and I. Max, the dog, ruled the rest of the house. He actually loved the cats, but my sister had visions of fights, so we pretty much stayed in our room. Blackie had no desire to leave, so I would walk GrisGris on his leash in the neighborhood.
A Surprise Phone Call
Things were ‘normal’ again. So when Jane called me late one day in November 2005, I was very surprised to hear that she needed me to come see about a cat. A young, black cat had come to her door at work. Jane worked for an air conditioning sales/repair shop, so part of the building was open to the street. This baby showed up at lunchtime and cried for food, but stayed out of reach. Jane finally coaxed her inside with a piece of meat. She didn’t know what to do, so she called me.
When I arrived, it was like this baby knew I was for her. I had no trouble getting her to come sit in my lap. I found that she was female, declawed and covered in fleas. Other than being so thin, though, she seemed healthy. I took her right away to our vet, Dr. Johnson. He examined her and said that this was once someone’s beloved kitten. He judged her to be about 6 months old, but she had been on her own probably since Katrina. Dr. Johnson said that since she was declawed in front and spayed, it was a good bet that her shots were up to date. He kept her overnight for observation, gave her vitamins and took care of her fleas. I brought her home the next day and named her Kizzie because all she wanted to do was kiss and lick me.
Kizzie was very shy around people, so shy that a lot of people thought I only had two cats because they never saw her. What was very troubling to me was how whenever it rained, she would find the highest place in the room, and stay there, with wide, scared eyes until the storm passed. Jane and I surmised that she must have been left in a house that flooded. She must have gotten out when the waters receded and somehow survived for three months on her own. Blackie and GrisGris were very gracious to Kizzie. They treated her like a little sister. When she realized that she didn’t have to fight for food, she grew rather fat and fluffy! At 11 years old now, she weighs in at 13lbs!
Three years later, Blackie went over the rainbow bridge. Her passing was peaceful. She was about 19 years old. Five years after Katrina, my mother passed away, and I moved away from my sister’s house.
We were in a shotgun apartment – Kizzie, GrisGris and I. One day, a lizard had the misfortune to get into our space. I saw it at the same time that Kizzie did, but she was quicker! She got a hold of that lizard and pulled it under the couch! She did not give it up until there was nothing left but the head and the tip of the tail! I fished both out from under the couch later that night.
I do not believe in declawing cats, and I actively fight against it, but I must give Kizzie her props for being a master adapter. And now, I think that I know how she survived Katrina on the streets. Even if you don’t have the teeth or claws, just act like you do, loudly! Most other animals will ‘believe’ that you do and act accordingly.
A New Life
I met Dennis in 2011, and we married in September of 2012. GrisGris Loved him right away, and Kizzie even felt comfortable around him. In fact, I knew that Dennis was the right one for me one stormy night. The rain came down hard outside, but Kizzie slept through the whole thing with her head on Dennis’ shoulder!
Together Dennis and I adopted Jockamo and Feenanay. GrisGris went over the rainbow bridge in 2014, along with Max, the Doberman. My sister and my nephew passed away in 2015, a month apart from each other. Dennis and I adopted GiGi in November 2015. We live in Dennis’ family home in uptown New Orleans, which never flooded.
About a year ago, I started talking to a lady in the pet food aisle. I noticed she was buying a ton of food for both cats and dogs. I asked her if it was for a rescue group. It turns out that Pat had stayed behind when everyone else left. She refused to leave and locked herself and her one dog and four cats in her house. Pat was appalled by the number of animals left to run loose. She rescued and brought all of those that she could to her home and left food out for the others. Pat had stockpiled for just such an emergency. But when she started to run out of food, arriving volunteers gave her more. And when the neighbors started to return, Pat delivered many of the pets back to their rightful owners.
Pat was left with 10 dogs and 20 cats to care for on top of her own, though. I’m not sure how her neighbors feel about her, but I admire her. Pat did what she needed to do to help those she could. Pat is a Katrina Hero!
There are many more stories of heroes out there. I hope that this story prompts others to come forward and speak about their Katrina Heroes.
The biggest thank you possible to Kat McCann for sharing her Hurricane Katrina story with us. Kizzie fell into the arms of the perfect rescuer after living on the streets through Katrina.
I hope that Kat’s story has reminded you how important it is to be prepared for a disaster, but that it also reminded you about how much we do for the pets we love. Pets aren’t just pets. They are family.
As I mentioned in Part 1, the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006 was one of the positives to come out of Katrina. But I also wanted to share with you this 6-minute video from PBS. It may seem obvious to us pet owners, but Hurricane Katrina showed everyone how much pet owners care about and love their animals, which is what prompted changes in state and federal laws regarding animals during evacuations. Source