Animals rescued from homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey

Posted at 11:01 PM, Aug 30, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-31 02:01:38-04

The devastation of Hurricane Harvey will reach beyond the human toll. It will also be extremely tough on pets left behind in the chaos.

So far, neither of the Valley’s two big shelters have received any rescues from Houston, but the Arizona Humane Society said it’s ready to accept a few animals and expects some will come to Phoenix.

However, the big problem with disaster rescues is reuniting pets with owners after the fact.

Karen Remy O’Toole experienced the trauma of rescuing pets after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. She lives in Cave Creek with several pets, including a cat named King Kong that she pulled out of the floodwaters in 2005.

King Kong was one of the roughly 15,000 lost animals rescued from around New Orleans in Katrina’s aftermath according to the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The SPCA said some 80 percent of those pets were never reunited with their owners.

“The priority for us and for the people rescuing on the ground was to save their lives. And it wasn't what address did I get [the animal] from? Most of the addresses were covered up with water,” said O’Toole.

O'Toole wrote a book on her experience rescuing animals after Katrina. She tells the stories and the horrors of those initial days before anybody was let back into the city.

“I suffered from post-traumatic stress after that,” said O’Toole. “We found chained animals that were dead with their heads trying to be above water.”

The Louisiana SPCA said estimates put the animal death toll in the tens-of-thousands after Katrina.

It's impossible to know how many animals will be found dead or lost along the Texas coast in Harvey’s wake, but Karen says she's already seen hope in Houston.

Unlike Katrina, many people have been allowed to evacuate or seek rescue with their pets.

“I've noticed the boats in Houston are letting the animals in and people are carrying their animals around which was very different from Katrina,” she said.

Rescuers, she said, will also do a better job keeping track of which pets are rescued from which homes – all lessons learned from Katrina.

O’Toole said wants to help get as much information to Harvey rescuers as possible. She’s making her book, “Orphans of Katrina,” available for free Kindle download on Amazon through Friday.