The Greatest Pet Rescue Ever

Seven years ago when Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast and the levees broke in New Orleans, cameras captured the chaos, crime, flooded homes and death.  Who can forget the images of the trashed Superdome with its damaged roof, the abandoned and boarded up homes with cryptic writings on the exterior, or people stranded on rooftops pleading for help with homemade signs.  Boats transported exhausted people to public shelters and an uncertain future.

I followed the news daily after Katrina and read about the political bickering over responsibilities.  I remember a news report featuring a journalist cruising on a boat down a residential street somewhere in New Orleans, probably the Lower 9th Ward, videotaping abandonded dogs on a front porch.  It seemed every living creature in that city was suffering and it was horrifying to watch.

In The Greatest Pet Rescue Ever: A Story of the Amazing Animal Rescue During Hurricane Katrina, director Tom McPhee chose to tell a story about an aspect of the Hurricane’s aftermath in a unique way.  McPhee’s documentary begins with the chaos following the storm, with special focus on the tens of thousands of animals in the region that were left to become strays, be rescued, or die.  Pets were often abandoned because people were forced to evacuate their homes and were demanded by authorities to leave their pets behind.   It’s not a pleasant story.


McPhee relates the communication difficulties between various organizations and the initial question of who was in charge of the pet rescue operation.  The Humane Society of the United States was on the scene early but did not have sufficient resources to take care of a problem of this magnitude alone, and the state and local entities were criticized for being unorganized and operating using an ineffective plan.  Some local animal rescue groups not authorized by the state were deemed “rogue rescuers” by government authorities, but many continued to operate anyway.

Despite the confusion and lack of resources, thousands of pets were rescued by various organizations and volunteers.  Many animals were sent to other states for care, some pets were fostered by other families, and people worked hard to create databases to help unite pets with their owners.

What we didn’t hear much about was that some law enforcement personnel drove through the streets and indiscriminately shot dogs to death.  This gruesome activity was captured on camera by award-winning photojournalist David Leeson who witnessed it and shares his observations in this documentary.  What he saw is sad, disgusting, and will make you angry.  Leeson reminds us these events matter because how we treat animals and our environment is indicative of what is happening in our culture and how we treat people.  McPhee, on the other hand, doesn’t give us direct answers but questions our role following a disaster.  Ultimately, the efficiency and success rate of future rescue operations similar to the pet rescue efforts after Katrina will prove whether or not we’ve learned from previous mistakes.

See also:

Pawprints of Katrina

Hurricane Katrina: a storm that drowned a city (DVD)

Bayou Farewell

The Humane Society of the United States

As a Public Services Specialist, in addition to Reference work and serving on special project committees I enjoy promoting and coordinating nature-themed programs for adults and families. My interests include hiking trails locally and in National Parks, reading about and traveling to Alaska, Sandhill Crane migration, Monarch waystations, and volunteering as a certified K-State Extension Master Naturalist (2014-present). Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country is my all-time favorite novel.