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Life on the Street

After hurricane Katrina, pets proliferate in Southern Mississippi

Flooding from hurricane Katrina killed thousands of animals and left as many homeless in cities along the Gulf Coast. Now, more than five months after flood waters rose as much as 35 feet along the shores of Gulfport and Biloxi, Miss., these dogs and cats are still at large and have integrated into a new life on the streets.

Mixing with local strays, these animals roam together, sleep together and bear puppies with their nomadic mates. They make dens in abandoned homes, and toxic crawl spaces under the porches serve as nurseries for pregnant females. Most stay in the vicinity of their neighborhoods and these neighborhoods are becoming crowded. Litters of puppies appear daily. For Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) trappers sent in to help local officials deal with the overwhelming numbers of animals, finding the dogs is just a matter of cruising the neighborhoods. See a female who is obviously nursing, follow her to her puppies and the rest is usually easy.

What is not easy is the task of housing these pets and puppies. The work falls on the Humane Society of Southern Mississippi (HSSM), a 501 C3 shelter with facilities for about 150 animals that now often admits as many as 250. According to Julie Parks, assistant director of operations, their puppy wing at the shelter houses 75, but is often expanded into other rooms to accommodate the numbers. The shelter is what Parks calls an open admission, where no dog is turned away. In addition to sheltering the dogs and cats, HSSM actively promotes its spay/neuter program, hoping to control the proliferation of locally owned pets. Most of their animals are not neutered, which is a rural mentality that Parks said they hope to slowly change with education and free services.

Many of HSSM's pets are adopted locally, but the shelter also relies on the assistance of organizations such as PetConnect in Potomac, where volunteers arrive with vehicles to pick up and transport dogs and cats back to their part of the country for fostering and adoption. Recently, four Mississippi dogs from the HSSM shelter arrived in Potomac to be welcomed into homes found for them by PetConnect. The organization hopes to bring back another group of rescued dogs and cats from the area as soon as they find volunteers to help foster them, said Lizette Chanock, founder. To date, PetConnect has fostered/adopted more than 50 Katrina dogs and cats, and also helped reunite some of them with their owners.

These local organizations around the country are the backbone of the Katrina rescue mission. Without them, volunteers in Mississippi and Louisiana would be hampered in their animal rescue efforts, which are ongoing. These volunteers work in extreme circumstances and rely on the availability of a limited but vital space, often in local makeshift shelters, where the dogs they still find on the streets can be given the opportunity for a new start.