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Pets Still Being Collected in Katrina's Aftermath

ED GORDON, host:

Like humans, animals were greatly affected by Hurricane Katrina. The ASPCA says some 5,000 pets have been rescued so far, but many of them have yet to be reunited with their owners. NPR's Allison Keyes has more.

ALLISON KEYES reporting:

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is among many animal welfare agencies that are trying to help the hundreds of thousands of creatures victimized by the hurricane. Sandy Monterose, the ASPCA's Shelter Outreach manager, says rescuers are running into more than just cats and dogs.

Ms. SANDY MONTEROSE (ASPCA): We've seen snakes, tons of birds, ferrets, rabbits, a couple pigs, and there is another--a separate team that is working with horses. So it's any animal that's loved by someone, we're trying help them all.

KEYES: Monterose spent two weeks in the Gulf region at the beginning of this month. She spent a day in Jackson, Mississippi, a few days at a pet-friendly shelter in Monroe, Louisiana, then headed to a staging area in Gonzales, Louisiana, where rescued animals are brought for screening and treatment.

Ms. MONTEROSE: I went with the water team. I had a dry suit on and went out wading through the shallow waters and boating through the deeper waters, rescuing animals and picking them up. We went to, for example, a hotel where there had been reports that 50 or so dogs and cats had been left behind. So we went floor to floor and door to door.

KEYES: Monterose says the team also went to the 6-10 overpass, where people who had been evacuated by boat with their pets were being forced to board buses without them.

Ms. MONTEROSE: We got a call because there were people who refused to leave. One guy who was maybe in his 30s and he was with two elderly pit bulls. There was another middle-aged boxer, and then he had a young shepherd mix stray dog that he had just taken on, and he was refusing to leave. And he said that he would sit there and die with his dogs if he had to because he would not leave them. Finally, he allowed us to take the dogs, and as we were talking away with the dogs on leads, he just sort of crumpled to the ground. And when we drove away, that's where I saw him, was just sort of in a heap on the ground, crying.

KEYES: Monterose says the man notified them last week that he was coming to get his pets. She says it was especially difficult for animals whose owners were forced to leave them at home during the evacuations, even though most people left behind large supplies of food and water.

Ms. MONTEROSE: As time went on, the conditions were a little tougher. Some of the animals obviously were found in standing water. Some of the animals had run out of water and had drank the water--you know, the toxic water.

KEYES: And some animals, she says, are simply fending for themselves. The Gonzales staging area at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, about 45 miles northwest of New Orleans, is housing about 2,000 animals a day. Rescuers are taking animals in, but overcrowding has forced them to ship some pets to other locations. Monterose says animals are being held for 30 days, after which the shelter has the option putting the pet up for adoption to a new home. She says very few will be put to sleep.

Ms. MONTEROSE: Because there are shelters and individuals from all over the country who are calling and asking for these animals. I think these animals will have a great shot at getting a new, happy life because everybody wants to help in some way.

KEYES: Many rescuers have been overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation, but Monterose says she's tried to focus on what she could accomplish and to work on those things. She returned to the Gonzales shelter this week. Allison Keyes, NPR News.

GORDON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.