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Monday, September 5, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Complete hurricane coverage

Complete hurricane coverage

A special section

Some stay to care for animals

Knight Ridder Newspapers

NEW ORLEANS — The howls and yelps and barks that pierce the New Orleans night disturb James Lalande as he stirs in his bed.

The abandoned pets are the reason Lalande can't sleep and the reason he won't leave his city.

New Orleans residents abandoned thousands of pets in their hasty retreat, leaving many to fend for themselves in the streets, with others locked in houses and apartments or tied up in yards, according to local animal specialists.

Throughout the city, animals face a horrible fate. The locked-up pets are starving. In the famed New Orleans aquarium, more than 500 of the 4,000 fish died because there's no power to pump oxygen into the tanks. At the Audubon Zoo, a staff of 12 fed and watered 1,400 hungry and thirsty animals.

"It's just overwhelming," said Laura Maloney, the executive director of the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "There are countless thousands of abandoned pets in the city. And hundreds and hundreds are stuck inside their homes."

Maloney said she had been bombarded with calls from evacuated residents who left pets in their homes. Many people were forced to abandon pets because they weren't allowed to take them on evacuation buses.

For the past few days, about 10 volunteers have been going to addresses where people left animals and are breaking in to save them, Maloney said.

Not everyone in New Orleans left pets behind. Lalande refuses to evacuate without his dog, Charlie, and his cats, Miranda and Babettes.

"I've never cried in my life, but the saddest thing in the world is when all night long you hear dogs crying; big dogs, little dogs, medium dogs," said Lalande, 62. "People left thinking they'd be gone two or three days, but now they can't come back and their pets are starving. Tomorrow, I'm breaking in and feeding dogs."

Stray pets have formed packs and are roaming the city, scavenging for whatever food they can get.

Ron Forman, chief executive officer of the city's Audubon Nature Institute, said animal attractions were in bad shape, especially at the city's aquarium, where more than 500 fish died. The zoo fared better. Although the Jaguar Jungle attraction looks like a scene out of the film "Jurassic Park," with fallen palms, eucalyptus and willow trees blocking the path, the animals mostly survived and are secure. One of the huge alligators is missing, however, and some birds from the aviary died.

But the Siamang monkeys, Francis and Crown, still hoot at a visitor, and Jean the elephant makes a special trip out of her cave for leaves from fallen oak branches.

The zoo had the good fortune of being on some of the city's highest ground. It also had a disaster plan for the animals that worked better than the city's plan for humans.

It suffered no serious flooding, but the storm's winds toppled several large trees and knocked down branches throughout the 52-acre grounds.

Dan Maloney, the zoo curator and husband of Laura Maloney, said the zoo revamped its contingency plan for hurricane preparation in the early 1990s under the advice of Miami's Metrozoo, which sustained major damage in Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Maloney's new plan secured generators to keep food refrigerated for the animals, for example.

Maloney said that although the hurricane traumatized the zoo animals, they had recovered quickly, faster than the humans. But he said that without the dedication of his exhausted staff, they wouldn't survive for long.

"We're on our own here and we know we're on our own," said Maloney, who has begun calling the zoo Camp Katrina. "We tried to plan for what's impossible to plan for."

While many human storm victims had no water or food, the zoo laid in enough provisions to keep its animals alive for days. The storm provided additional food by stripping from the trees huge amounts of leaves, which were mixed in with other food to extend provisions.

A few items — hay, crickets and mealworms — were restocked by a convoy from Baton Rouge, Maloney said.

Zoo staff members who stayed behind said the biggest problems now are the low-flying helicopters buzzing around the city to rescue people. The sight of them and the noise scare the animals, said assistant curator Rick Dietz.

"The hoof stock start to run around. We don't want them to run into a fence and break their necks," he said.

They have requested that choppers either not fly over the zoo, which is in the city's Garden District, or stay at least 1,500 feet above it.

Maloney said the human suffering and death outside the zoo's fence were a tragedy, but he was grateful he and his staff saved the helpless creatures on the inside.

"Unlike the people," Maloney said, "the animals don't have a choice to leave, so we stay with them."

Material from Reuters is included in this report.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company



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