Posted: 11/19/2005


PBS Nature: Katrina’s Animal Rescue


by Parama Chaudhury

Premiering November 20th, on PBS.

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Here’s yet another human interest story from Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, but one with a new angle on those affected. When the people of New Orleans and the other cities and towns in the path of the hurricane were evacuated, they were instructed to leave their pets behind. Most did so, expecting to be back in a few days. But Mother Nature had other plans, and two weeks after the hurricane hit, most of these animals were still cowering in the dark interiors of their owners’ homes, with little food or water to sustain them. The PBS show, Nature, follows members of the ASPCA and volunteers as they scour the abandoned streets for any sign of these animals. Katrina’s Animal Rescue is the resulting documentary, which looks at not just the domestic pets—cats, dogs, fish, and even a pig—left behind, but also dolphins swept out to sea by giant waves and penguins left without sustenance when the power goes out in their aquarium.

The documentary opens with the rescue of a very suspicious black poodle. The ASPCA staffer who finally collars the dog has lost her own home, but she has been working nonstop for the two weeks since Katrina hit, in hopes of saving at least some of the hundreds of thousands of pets wasting away in the abandoned houses of New Orleans. This early encounter sets the stage for discussing all of the problems involved in this endeavor—the animals are hungry, as well as deprived of human contact, and so many have turned to more primitive behavior and are likely to attack any humans coming close to them. But as the dog who downs three gallons of water without pausing for a breath shows, the animals soon start trusting the strangers who bring them comfort and even when they are reunited with their owners, are quick to show affection to the people who rescued them.

The most stunning operation is the dolphin rescue. Four dolphins from a Mississippi aquarium had been washed out to sea, where it is impossible for them to survive since they were bred in captivity. After much coaxing and some dramatic footage, the dolphins are moved into temporary tanks and taken to join other dolphins from the same aquarium which are being held in a hotel swimming pool. Katrina’s Animal Rescue also introduces us to desperate pet owners in search of their animals, particularly one retiree whose only family was his beloved cat, Connie. We see the tearful reunions, but there are also plenty of animals who do not make it, and whom the rescuers come across on their search through the city. The tragedy of these animals which have been trained to stay at home, and therefore doomed to their deaths, is hard to stomach, and is an issue that merits more attention in the discussions about disaster management. Nature once again steps up to plate and delivers an informative and engaging take on an important problem.

Parama Chaudhury is a film critic and economics professor living in New England.

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