Gulf Coast Pets Reunited with Families The editors of Bark Magazine discuss their cover story (Winter 2005) on the animals of Katrina and how people and their pets are recovering and being reunited.
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Gulf Coast Pets Reunited with Families

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Gulf Coast Pets Reunited with Families

Gulf Coast Pets Reunited with Families

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Among the compelling stories we heard in the immediate days following the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina were those about people and their pets. Many people put themselves in peril to remain with their pets; others had to say goodbye with only the hope that they might see their pet again. If you have a story to tell, give us a call at 1 (800) 989-TALK, or send us an e-mail at

Bark magazine is a quarterly magazine focused on the relationship between humans and dogs. Their latest issue, their biggest issue ever, is a Katrina special. And joining us now are the co-founders of Bark magazine, Cameron Woo and Claudia Kawczynska. They come to us by way of station KQED.

Thank you both for joining us.

Mr. CAMERON WOO (Co-Founder, Bark Magazine): Thank you. Hello, Neal and Liane.


Ms. CLAUDIA KAWCZYNSKA (Co-Founder, Bark Magazine): Yes, hello, Neal and Liane.

HANSEN: Hi, both of you. Can--let's start with some of the compelling stories in this issues, and one of the ones that was most compelling to me is the story of James Mercadal (pronounced merKAYdil), I think, is how you pronounce his name. He is someone without sight and he lost his dog, or was separated from his dog. Tell us his story.

Mr. WOO: Well, James was, like so many individuals, taken by surprise by the impact and the fury of the storm and later the flooding. He was forced to evacuate his home, and he left his dogs. He has two dogs. One is his Seeing Eye dog, which he calls a leader dog, and then a pet companion, as he calls his other dog. And like so many folks, he was persuaded to leave the dogs behind with the idea that he'd be able to go back within a matter of hours or days to bring them and to evacuate them. And, unfortunately, they were separated for 10 long days.

HANSEN: How were they reunited?

Mr. WOO: Well, they were reunited through the efforts of dozens of people, friends and family, people he didn't know, people who worked for rescue organizations, animal rescue organizations and the National Guard, through this network of just people helping people and eventually helping his dogs to find him. And he actually found his other dog, his pet dog, in Michigan at a rescue center there. So it took a long time, but there was an eventual happy ending.

CONAN: I understand they asked him what the dog looked like, if he could identify her. Of course, he's blind.

Mr. WOO: Exactly. And, you know, that goes to the heart of one of the many lessons that we learned from Katrina in respect to animals and how all of us who have animals in our lives need to be better prepared for a disaster, and one of those things is to give proper ID to your pet companions.

HANSEN: Elaborate a little bit on that. I mean, we've talked a lot about how humans can prepare for disaster. How can humans prepare for disaster who have pets?

Mr. WOO: Well, we do have a 10-point checklist in our new issue, and there are some things that are very easy--some very easy steps to take. ID, obviously, is important, whether it's a tag or if it's microchipping, which is something that is proving more and more popular these days.

CONAN: That's where you implant one of these microchips under the skin of your pet?

Ms. KAWCZYNSKA: That's right. And also tattooing--you know, tattooing in the inside of the dog's ear, things like that. But what's really important, I think, is to have your own personal evacuation plan; not only the local plan in your area or the state plan, but you and your neighbors should come up with an evacuation plan, as well.

HANSEN: What ab...

Mr. WOO: I think one of the things that people learned from this was that they have to be responsible for the care and well-being of their pets. And, unfortunately, because there was a lack of an overall plan and a lot of misinformation, very well-intentioned people who cared deeply for their pets were advised or decided to leave their pets behind. And I think something that I would take from this is not to leave your pets behind.

CONAN: Mm. There were also some less well-intentioned people you write about who deliberately left their pets behind.

Mr. WOO: Well, you know, I think in that scenario, it's a situation that people have to make choices for--looking out for their own personal safety as well as their families', and unfortunately, pets, in a lot of people's view, are further down the line. The good news is that there have been some great things to result from this tragedy, and that's some legislation that I think will really make a difference in how people prepare and respond to animals in disasters.

HANSEN: Explain that. There was actually a bill introduced in Congress, if I'm not mistaken.

Ms. KAWCZYNSKA: Right. And this is Claudia talking. Yes, with Representative Tom Lantos from California and Chris Shays of Connecticut, so it's a bipartisan bill. It's called HR 3858, and the acronym is PETS, very aptly acronymed, but it stands for Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act. And the other day I was actually talking to Representative Lantos' office to get an update, and where it is right now is it's in a committee. It's in the Transportation Committee; hopefully will come up for vote on December the 7th. But what this act does, it's--what it would do is to require state and local emergency management agencies to make plans for people with their pets to be able to safety evacuate. I think it's a wonderful bill to support, and I certainly urge your listeners to call their representatives to show their support for the bill.

HANSEN: This is something that also actually worked when Hurricane Rita hit. If I'm not mistaken, the mayor of Galveston and the governor were clear that, first of all, evacuees could bring pets to the shelters.

Ms. KAWCZYNSKA: Yeah, which was an amazingly short period of time where the policy-makers learned a very important lesson. But overall, not just because the policy-makers urged people to evacuate with their pets, but also the Red Cross and local humane organizations kicked in and started coordinating the sheltering of pets with their humans, which is the first time that has happened. And hopefully, in the future, more of that will happen as well.

CONAN: We're talking with Claudia Kawczynska and Cameron Woo, co-founders of Bark magazine, and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's get a listener on the line. This is Donna, Donna calling from Grafton, Massachusetts.

DONNA (Caller): Oh, hi.


DONNA: I'm a small-animal veterinarian. I'm studying at the Center for Animals and Public Policy at the Cummings Veterinary School right now.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

DONNA: And I'm curious to know about specifically elementary schoolchildren and the issue--the resilience issue, and whether any of these children who have been separated from their pets--are there any programs in place for them in the elementary schools, whether they be pets in the classroom or anything like that, to help them with some of the coping that they have to do?

HANSEN: Are you aware of any of that, either...


HANSEN: ...Cameron or Claudia?

Ms. KAWCZYNSKA: No, I have not heard of it, but it's a great idea, and it certainly calls for a follow-up article in our magazine, or perhaps program on TALK OF THE NATION. But that's a great idea.

Mr. WOO: Yeah. There's an organization called the Delta Society that is very active in helping people cope and grieve over lost pets. So I'll have to do some research to see if they're extending that into the schools in the aftermath of Katrina.

CONAN: Good question, Donna. Thank you.

DONNA: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's talk now with Ray. Ray is calling us from Jacksonville, Florida.

RAY (Caller): Hi. How are you?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

RAY: Listen, I was in New Orleans for about a week and--after Katrina, and just--well, I was there during Rita as well, but in between Katrina and Rita got a chance to hang out with the urban search-and-rescue personnel who were doing search and rescue of all of the buildings, particularly in the Lower Ninth Ward area. And it was interesting because they noticed that there were some animals, dogs in particular, and so what they did every day, out of their own pocket, they bought dog good, and they would leave a 25-pound bag of dog food, cut it open, and a large pan of water. They'd go away at the end of the day and come back the following day, and find out that the dogs had gone and had eaten out of the bag of dog food. And so they termed those dogs ghost dogs, because they would never make themselves noticeable during the day, but at night they'd apparently come out and eat and then go back in hiding, apparently because they were so traumatized. I thought it was an interesting story, and as you talk to the urban rescue personnel, they'll tell you about the ghost dogs, and that's who they are.

HANSEN: Thanks very much for your call.


HANSEN: What about cats? I mean, I know your magazine is called Bark, but cats were also left behind.

Mr. WOO: Cats were left behind, and, unfortunately, some folks had to make a choice between a dog or a cat if they had pets of both species. And I think some people felt that cats had a better chance of survival on their own because they are a little bit more independent. You know, the gentleman who just called talks about the heroics of people in response to Katrina and the efforts of the first responders, and it was a huge, massive effort that is incredible. They did an incredible job. And one of the interesting things was that there were so many people who volunteered on their own, paid their own way there out of their own pocket, to help in whatever way they could, whether it was going into these areas and either rescuing dogs or at some point caring and feeding for the animals that had been abandoned. I think that those folks deserve just a huge amount of credit.

CONAN: And, Claudia, we just have a couple of seconds left, but I thought one of the interesting points you made in the magazine was that, just as the--it's unfair to ask the Red Cross to take up the burden for people, it's unfair to ask voluntary organizations alone to take up the burden for the animals in a disaster.

Ms. KAWCZYNSKA: Well, certainly it is, and that's, again, why we need federal coordination. And the federal bill, again, 3858--I'm going to plug that--is an important component, because that would hopefully not just alert the local and state authorities that they need to coordinate but, again, through a grassroots effort, it's so important to get out there and save the animals.

CONAN: Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. WOO and Ms. KAWCZYNSKA: (In unison) Thank you.

CONAN: Cameron Woo and Claudia Kawczynska are co-founders of Bark magazine, and they joined us from the studios of our member station in San Francisco, KQED.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan.

HANSEN: And I'm Liane Hansen in Washington.

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