Hurricane Katrina Remembrances

With this August 2020 being the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we are highlighting many of the positive programs, policies, and animal adoptions that resulted from this natural disaster. Members of the veterinary community from across the country came to the #LSUSVM to assist our faculty, staff, students, and alumni as we worked together to aid animals and one another. 

arena floor of animal shelter on LSU campus

The arena floor at the temporary animal shelter at the LSU AgCenter's Parker Coliseum. 


Nola, A Katrina Dog

Our Hurricane Katrina anniversary series starts with the story of Nola the adopted “Katrina” dog.
After the hurricane there were about 8,000 dogs and cats rescued and brought to a temporary shelter at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, Louisiana, and many more went to different shelters or were transported to other states to ease overcrowding.

A local animal shelter in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, the Humane Society of Broward County, received many rescue dogs. Among these was an emaciated 14-lb. dog in a pen full of big dogs.

At this same time Connie Tingle was looking to adopt a dog. She asked to see the smaller dog, and as they visited the dog paced the perimeter, shaking, until the worker finally said, “Oh well, we tried,” and started to take her back to the pen.

“When the girl picked her up, the dog laid her head on her shoulder and looked at me, as if to say, ‘Don’t leave me here,’ and I said, ‘I’ll take her home,’” Connie said.

Nola, named after the city she was found in, is now 16 years old, weighs 45 lbs., and is enjoying life in South Florida!

Dogs like Nola were the lucky ones to come out of the storm, and Nola’s life attests to her resilience and loving home. Nola has lived to see the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

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 Nola in Florida

Nola in Florida


View from an SVM Faculty Perspective: Joseph Taboada, DVM, DACVIM, professor of Companion Animal Medicine, Veterinary Clinical Sciences at the LSU SVM

“We Set Up SVM ‘Katrina Hilton,’ Home to 100 Visiting Shelter Workers

One of my memories of those days after Katrina was how the veterinary profession stepped up to help.  Veterinarians and veterinary technicians came from all of the country to help and spent time at the shelters that the school helped set up at the Parker Ag Center coliseum and the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La.  They came down to Louisiana without a place to stay but came anyway.  They came to the school needing a place to get out of the heat, and we turned two of our classrooms and the study rooms in the Learning Center into places for them to stay.  We bartered for mattresses from the rec center and set up the “Katrina Hilton” that at its peak had almost 100 people living in the school and working at the shelters. The students also became involved, and we had a course pop up in which the students got credit for using their skills as veterinary professionals in the shelters.  In reading their journals as part of that course, it was obvious they had experiences that were life altering.  It was so inspiring to see something so positive to come from something so tragic.

 Veterinary volunteers from Cornell

Volunteers from Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine.


View from a Then-Veterinary Student Perspective: Jenny Sones, DVM, PhD

Diplomate, ACT, assistant professor of Theriogenology at LSU SVM

“It Was Time to Close the Books and Help!”

In August 2005, I was starting my second year of veterinary school at LSU. We all knew something was brewing in the Gulf. Growing up in Baton Rouge, I knew the drill: Stock up on candles, batteries, bottled water, etc. Oh, and we would probably get a few days off school. YAY!!! One more day to cram for that virology test. I had no idea that life was about to change so drastically. 

School was cancelled, electricity was out most places except at the vet school. My colleagues set up temporary housing in our study rooms and other places throughout the vet school. We then began to learn of the effects of Katrina on our veterinary species—dogs, cats, horses, and more. These precious creatures were the reason why we studied, crammed, and signed up to endure the rigors of veterinary school. It was time to close the books and help! Although we were not licensed veterinarians yet, we were keen to provide aid in any way we could. I, along with lots of my classmates, volunteered at Parker Coliseum on the LSU campus, where displaced small animals were seeking refuge, and Lamar Dixon, which became the shelter for large animals and others. These locations were overflowing not with 4H and hunter jumper shows, the events we were used to seeing there, but rather lost, displaced, and scared animals. We spend many hours doing anything we could, cleaning litter boxes, refilling water bowls, changing bedding, administering medications, and assisting the heroic volunteer veterinarians working tirelessly to treat the injured, sick, and rescued. 

Lots of important lessons were learned during Katrina. Many animals were not reunited with their owners. That's when I learned the value of microchipping to permanently identify animals, gained an appreciation for animal search and rescue, and the value of quick response. You never know when the next disaster will occur! Since then, we have had more natural disasters that have afflicted our beloved veterinary species. The veterinary training at LSU during Katrina has benefited me Tand all of us as veterinarians.  

Jenny Sones and classmates who volunteeredLSU SVM Class of 2008 best friends:

Drs. Jamie Charlie, Tricia Richardel, Jenny Sones, Laura Ward Ansel, and Emilie Seal Rouse, and Jessica Carey.


View from Then-Professor of Large Animal Medicine Dennis French, DVM, DABVP Equine Practice

“The Students Were Up to It on All Counts”

“The primary memory I have is the incredible efforts that these students put in during the first 10 days of our service to the horses. We worked together from 6 in the morning until we were done, usually 10 or 11 at night. The days were long, it was hot, and never did this first group of students ever complain to me. Attempting to keep the horses comfortable and negotiating with people that had all sorts of different interests and agendas was a challenge. However, because there was little to no security in the beginning, the students in this group also had to deal with individuals trying their best to “rescue” horses. 

 Our job was to care for horses once they returned to Lamar Dixon, so we had to wait for trailers that left early and returned in the late afternoon or evening. Most of the horses that came to us were in reasonable shape, so the medical emergencies were not a major issue. Trying to keep track of where they came from and how they were identified was a big challenge. We only sent a few horses to the SVM. Most were cared for on site. Dealing with all of the different factions that were housed at Lamar Dixon was also a great challenge, but the students were up to it on all counts.”

 Katrina volunteers

Dr. Dennis French (back row, third from left) with Katrina volunteers.


Editor’s Note: At the time of this writing, the Louisiana State Animal Response Team has been activated in response to Hurricane Laura, which made landfall on the Louisiana coast as a Category 4 Hurricane.

Katrina 15th Anniversary Retrospective Series

Renée Poirrier, DVM, CVA, Acadiana Veterinary Clinic, Director of the Louisiana Animal Response Team

“It is now the norm to evacuate, shelter, and/or rescue people with their pets. All of this progress has been made because Katrina shined a spotlight on the strength of the human-animal bond and what happens when people and their animals are separated.”

“I became the volunteer director of the Louisiana State Animal Response Team in 2003. I wanted some way to give back to my community and my profession. I got my first opportunity in 2005 when Katrina hit. Two things still stand out all these years later. The willingness of people from all over the country to drop everything and come to help and the willingness of our veterinary community to step up to help. The Shreveport, Alexandria, Monroe pre-storm pet shelters as well as the post-event pet shelters in Lafayette and Baton Rouge were run by local veterinarians, members of the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association (LVMA), all volunteers. The large animal search and rescue teams were staffed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and LVMA equine vets. The LVMA equine veterinarians were all volunteers.

“The LSU SVM set up the call center for large animal owners to get help and sent veterinarians, staff and students to help manage the Baton Rouge pet shelter, the largest co-located pet shelter in the state. The LSU SVM veterinarians managed the large animal shelter at Lamar Dixon, as well. Towards the end of the small animal search and rescue at the Lamar Dixon rescue shelter, we asked local veterinarians to volunteer to assist. They came in to provide veterinary support for each rescue team on the last days of search and rescue. Thirty veterinarians came from all over Louisiana to go out with the small animal search and rescue teams.

“The small animal search and rescue teams were coordinated and staffed by multiple national humane organizations including the Humane Society of the United States, the International Fund For Animal Welfare, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the American Humane Association, the United Animal Nations (now Red Rover), Noah’s Wish, Code 3, and many others. Many are still state partners today.

“The USDA, Veterinary Medical Assistant Teams, U.S. Public Health and the U.S. Army sent veterinarians and animal health technicians to assist. The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, with the USDA, coordinated the response.

“Many things have changed since Katrina.  In 2006, Louisiana passed a Pets Act and the federal government followed with the 2006 Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, recognizing pets as members of society.

“Animal Response is integrated as part of general emergency management. The National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition (NARSC) and the National Alliance of State Animal and Agricultural Emergency Programs (NASAAEP) were formed to identify best practices and better coordinate resources for a response. Our Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry now has incident management teams to manage state-run co-located pet shelters.

“It is now the norm to evacuate, shelter, and/or rescue people with their pets. Many of our local animal control agencies are part of a statewide memorandum of understanding to assist during disasters. LSART has become a formal Medical Reserve Corps and provides training for both human first responders as well as animal first responders. LSART partners with the LSU SVM to provide a week of disaster animal response training each year for veterinary students, animal control officers, veterinary technicians, and veterinarians to train the next generation.

“All of this progress has been made because Katrina shined a spotlight on the strength of the human-animal bond and what happens when people and their animals are separated.  A driving force for me was how I would want the pets and their people that I see in my veterinary practice taken care of during a disaster. Each disaster is different but learning the lessons from Katrina has made us stronger and better able to help people and animals before, during, and after disasters.”

 Horse in standing water being rescued after Hurricane Katrina

A horse being rescued following Hurricane Katrina.


Hurricane Katrina 15th Anniversary Retrospective Series

View from SVM alumna and faculty perspective:

Wendy Wolfson, DVM, (LSU SVM 1986), assistant professor of Shelter Medicine

“Over the Past 15 Years, SVM Has Built a Strong Shelter Medicine Program”

“Hurricane Katrina destroyed the LASPCA clinic and animal shelter where I had worked for over 20 years. Unfortunately, my home was also destroyed by the failure of the 17th Street Canal levee. A few months after the hurricane, while participating in CE with Dr. Marge Gill, I happened to see Dr. Joseph Taboada in the hall. He mentioned that the LSU SVM had received a grant to help shelters in the parishes affected by Katrina. He suggested I apply for the position of shelter medicine instructor that was created by the grant. He knew I was familiar with Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, and St. Charles Parish animal shelters. These parishes were the focus of the grant funding. Many of these shelters were in disrepair and had very few local veterinarians providing services for their animals. Over the past 15 years, the SVM has built a strong shelter medicine program, which has extended far beyond these original parishes. It helps teach students basic veterinary skills and provides valuable veterinary resources to shelters in need.” 


Dr. Wendy Wolfson and a student examining a dog at a shelter

Dr. Wendy Wolfson instructs a veterinary student examining a dog at an animal shelter.


Hurricane Katrina 15th Anniversary Retrospective Series

View from SVM alumnus perspective:

Neil Henderson, DVM, (LSU SVM 1995), owner, Pine Ridge Veterinary Center*

“St. Bernard Parish was destroyed. That’s where I stayed for five days helping animals; my dad helped five more days”

“When Katrina hit, the LVMA sent out a request for help from veterinarians. I got to the Lamar Dixon Center on Day Five after Katrina hit.  St. Bernard Parish was where I spent most of my time helping.  It was literally destroyed.  One day, while we were making our rounds, a man came running up to me and said that he just remembered that while the storm was coming through--he was on the third story of a building looking out of the window--he noticed a dog swimming around frantically with nowhere to go.  He opened a window for it with the hopes that it would swim inside the building to safety.  Seven or eight days later, with the temperature well into the upper 90s, the man came up to me and asked me to go into the building to see if I could find the dog.  I did not have much hope but went anyway.  There, on the third floor of the building, I found the dog, a boxer, alive. She was in surprisingly good shape.  The man was ecstatic to see the dog and could not believe that it made it inside the building to safety. I stayed for five days helping animals, and my dad came after that for five more days.”

*In 1995, Dr. Neil Henderson joined the Pine Ridge Veterinary Center founded by his father, Dr. Robert Henderson, deceased.

Lamar DixonLamar Dixon in Gonzales, La., was used to house animals rescued from areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.