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Beyond Katrina

Three Years Later, HSUS Gulf Coast Programs Flourish

It's been three years since Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana and Mississippi, and economic recession, shifting demographics, eroded community institutions, and frustration with relief agencies make for a mixed picture of overall recovery. 

When it comes to animal welfare, however, the situation is challenging, but improving. The HSUS's multi-million dollar commitments to animal care work in the two states have been instrumental.

Making a Difference

Since Sept. 1, 2005, The HSUS has committed or spent more than $34 million on general disaster relief and recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast states, the enhancement of its disaster response capacities, and the transformation of public policy concerning animals in disaster.

Highlights include $7.3 million for direct response, rescue and reunion efforts; $8.35 million in recovery and reconstruction grants to 45 Gulf Coast humane organizations; $2.3 million in reimbursement grants to 130 cooperating organizations from 29 other states; $3.8 million to support pet health and overpopulation initiatives; $600,000 on the construction of an emergency shelter; $600,000 on legislation to ensure the inclusion of animals in disaster planning; and $2 million for a public education campaign on spaying and neutering.

The HSUS is also spending $5 million to strengthen its Emergency Services division so that it can more effectively respond to disasters and emergency situations in the Gulf Coast and elsewhere—including such looming threats as Tropical Storm Gustav.

Finally, The HSUS has leveraged $2.76 million worth of in-kind contributions to animal care institutions in the Gulf Coast region and attracted more than $1 million in grants from other entities to Louisiana and Mississippi.

Changing the Landscape

Now, The HSUS is directing money and expertise into projects that will transform the landscape of animal care in the Gulf Coast region.

Together, spaying and neutering initiatives, grants to local societies, veterinary school partnerships, continuing education for shelter personnel, direct assistance and expert consultation on shelter management, construction of emergency facilities, and campaigns to strengthen animal protection legislation form the heart of The HSUS’s ongoing programs in Louisiana and Mississippi. 

The broad purpose of these grants is to encourage people in the two states to take full advantage of the humane infrastructure we've helped to build, and to reinforce the professionalism and the professional service of Gulf Coast institutions devoted to animal care.

After Katrina: Helping Gulf Coast Dogs and Cats

At the heart of these initiatives is After Katrina, an effort to move the social needle on spaying and neutering throughout Louisiana and Mississippi. This fall, The HSUS will launch a $2 million public awareness campaign, based on new research concerning the most effective messages, messengers and approaches to influence people's decisions to spay or neuter their animals.  

The research that undergirds this project was underwritten by a grant from Maddie's Fund® and The Pet Rescue Foundation. HSUS staff visited and collected information and statistics from 57 Louisiana and Mississippi shelters, which collectively represent 91 percent of animal intake across both states. 

Shelters participating in this six-year data-tracking process to measure impact over time were awarded unrestricted grants totaling $907,500.

With their cooperation, HSUS staff members were able to carry out qualitative and quantitative studies of pet acquisition, spay/neuter rates, the number of pets and the extent of pet homelessness in the two states, and attitudes and behaviors concerning spay/neuter. 

Strengthening the Laws

Aug. 15, 2008 was historical for Louisiana and the nation—that was the day cockfighting was finally banned in the state. After years of campaigning by The HSUS, all 50 states now prohibit cockfighting.

The HSUS's president and CEO, Wayne Pacelle, joined Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and other law enforcement officials in Baton Rouge to mark the criminalization of cockfighting and to announce a rewards program for information leading to the conviction of violators.  

The cockfighting law is just one of several bills The HSUS has steered to passage in the region since Katrina hit.

In Louisiana, legislation to establish dogfighting felony spectator penalties, as well as a law to permit judges to protect pets by granting sole custody and care to the proper party via restraining orders, passed and received approval from the governor.

Legislation to limit the size of puppy mills has also been enacted.

In Mississippi, The HSUS continues its pursuit of a bill to punish cruelty to animals as a felony rather than a misdemeanor.  The Magnolia State is one of a handful without felony penalties for serious acts of cruelty.

On the positive side of the ledger, Mississippi did extend its prohibition against hogdog fighting through 2012.

Shelter Medicine Programs and Community Outreach

The last year has seen tangible progress in the development of HSUS-funded programs in shelter medicine at the veterinary schools of Louisiana State University (LSU) and Mississippi State University (MSU).

The goal of these partnerships is to strengthen the relationship between the veterinary profession, the humane community, and the general public—and to provide life-saving services for animals and their caregivers.

Time and again, programs of this kind have proven to be an effective means for educating veterinary students about humane issues, making them better advocates for animals once they take up their professional duties in private practices or in other venues.

Dramatic Results

The purpose of the LSU grant was to provide veterinary students with a service learning experience focusing on animal wellness, population dynamics, disaster medicine, animal behavior, and animal welfare. 

Nearly 60 students have participated in the shelter medicine, spaying and neutering, and community wellness courses. Since November 2007, LSU has facilitated 872 sterilizations through the program—an average of 25 surgeries per week. LSU students have provided close to 1,100 basic wellness exams to animals in Louisiana shelters.  

At MSU, a similar shelter medicine program is producing dramatic results.  There, veterinarians are visiting seven different animal shelters and two animal sanctuaries within the Hurricane Katrina disaster zone to spay and neuter animals.

Sixty-two students have participated in the new shelter medicine and spay neuter elective rotation, in which they spend two weeks working in local shelters under veterinary supervision.

Working with a statewide network, MSU has implemented a voucher program with more than 150 participating veterinarians. So far, the effort has resulted in a total of 6,797 surgeries—an average of 378 surgeries per month.

MSU veterinarians are also participating in a RAVS-type spay neuter program targeting communities across the state. Three community-based spay neuter events have already been conducted.

Veterinary students are also beginning to visit schools in both states to provide basic information on animal health care and the challenges of pet homelessness.

Investments in People and Institutions, for Animals

In May 2008, together with the ASPCA, Maddie's Fund, and PetSmart Charities, The HSUS awarded 56 scholarships to 38 animal shelters in Louisiana and Mississippi, allowing personnel to attend Animal Care Expo, The HSUS's educational conference and international trade show for animal care and control professionals. 

This unprecedented investment in leadership development and the cultivation of a regional identity on the part of shelter personnel in the two states is already paying dividends in the form of increased professionalism and service.
In addition, HSUS staffers are sharing the research results of the After Katrina initiative with shelter directors, animal control officers, veterinarians and groups providing low-cost spay/neuter, to ensure the broadest possible diffusion of the insights gained.

Extra Support for Shelters

The HSUS's commitments have also included extra support for shelters operating under difficult circumstances. 

In late March, The HSUS personnel transferred 44 dogs and eight cats from the overtaxed St. Bernard's Parish animal shelter, taking them to Florida facilities, where they found new homes. 

This fall, The HSUS will waive its customary fee to provide an Animal Services Consultation for the Tangipahoa Parish Animal Shelter in Hammond, La. In a highly controversial decision there this August, all 170 animals then housed in the facility were euthanized.

A New Animal Evacuation Facility

From a partnership forged in the crucible of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana will soon have an emergency evacuation facility and veterinary clinic for animals.

With funding from The HSUS, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections is completing a disaster overflow shelter at the Dixon Correctional Institute (DCI) in Jackson, Louisiana. 

In the second phase of this collaboration, DCI will work with The HSUS and the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine to plan and build a small veterinary clinic and animal shelter serving East Feliciana Parish.

Continuing Efforts

In all of the Gulf Coast states, The HSUS is working with federal and state relief agencies to ensure that the problems that bedeviled response to Katrina will not recur in the future.

From the public policy work that secured the PETS Act and related state legislation, to its involvement with contingency and disaster planning throughout the country, The HSUS remains committed to improving the nation's capacity to respond to emergencies of a catastrophic nature. 

A New Dawn

Since Katrina's devastating land strike on Aug. 29, 2005, and the terrible flooding and havoc that ensued, animal welfare in Louisiana and Mississippi has been an urgent priority for The HSUS, and its program investments are helping to bring about a new dawn in animal care.

Those investments will continue, anticipating the day when humane advocates in other states will point to the Gulf Coast region as home to the most progressive models of animal care and control in the nation.

It started with Katrina, but our work carries on.

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