Nation & World

Pets getting priority this time as city empties for Gustav

NEW ORLEANS — Elisa Miller dropped to the pavement and nuzzled her face against the neck of her fittingly named coonhound Hurricane.

Then she stood up outside the New Orleans downtown bus station and watched officials lead Hurricane into a portable crate, which would then be loaded onto an 18-wheeler.

"The driver will stop every two hours to check on the pets," a worker assured her. "We'll take good care of him. We promise."

"Please do," Miller said, casting one last nervous glance before heading to a bus taking people to Shreveport.

Three years after pet owners were reduced to tears while being forced to leave their dogs and cats in neighborhoods ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, emergency response officials are taking extraordinary care to ensure animal safety during Hurricane Gustav.

At the bus station, a designated pick-up point for evacuees, a pet registration center was set up under green tents. Dozens of white pet-traveling crates were stacked against the curb.

"We're making sure the pets go where their owners go," said Sandy Cochran, South Carolina state coordinator with United Animal Nations, who came to New Orleans to help with the effort. "During Katrina, there was really no plan for what to do with pets.

We have a 178-pound English Mastiff on a truck right now. We've seen and are taking everything here."

Before pet owners boarded a bus, they filed out paperwork about their animal and were given a paper bracelet with a code number on it, she said. That code number was then written on the traveling crate along with the names of the pet and owner.

The pets were loaded onto 18-wheel trucks, which follow their buses to their destination. Every two hours, the truck driver stops to check on the animals, which are fed, watered and kept cool.

A veterinarian was on stand-by at the registration tent to treat sick or injured animals, Cochran said. State officials said they requested about 150 trucks to help transport pets out of the city.

Among the animals to arrive Sunday were cats, dogs, a brightly colored bird and a rabbit.

Adams Woods said he and his Labrador mix, Mandela, spent five days outside the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina because he refused to board a bus without him.

"I wasn't gonna leave this time until I heard they'd help you get your dog out of here, too," he said, stroking Mandela's back. "As a worker led Mandela away on a leash, Woods said, "I don't like that dog; I love that dog. He's not used to this, so look out for him, ok?"

Branch is a staff writer with the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.

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