This year, the Katrina anniversary is going to the dogs and cats, birds, horses, pigs, fish and other animals, domestic and wild, who were lost in the storm. The first-ever memorial dedicated to animal victims, the National Katrina Animal Memorial and service sponsored by the Humane Society of Louisiana on Friday, Aug. 29 will commemorate those animals which were lost as well as the volunteer efforts of individuals and organizations who banded together to save stranded animals in the aftermath of the disaster.
"We wanted to thank them and others we never got a chance to thank," says Jeff Dorson, founder and executive director of the Humane Society of Louisiana. "This memorial is really a chance for us to publicly reach out to all those people who came here physically or sent a loved one or sent a gift or funds. We want this to be a tribute to them and the hundreds of thousands of animals that perished."
Various donors from around the country raised funds for the memorial designed by sculptor Richard Chashoudian, says Dorson. The bronze sculpture is a 3-and-a-half-foot tall memorial that includes a life-size statue of a dog and cat set on a stand together with a plaque listing the memorial's sponsors.
The daylong memorial service is open to the public free of charge and will begin with an unveiling of the statue followed by a dedication ceremony at 10 a.m. in the foyer of City Hall. Councilwoman Stacy Head will accept the memorial on behalf of the City of New Orleans. The service also will include a reading by poet Ed Kastro, and the dedication of awards to specific individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the rescue operation, including Amanda and Marty St. John, who set up a triage and rescue operation in eastern New Orleans immediately following Katrina and continue to work with the state through their organization, Muttshack, on developing support and training for the transport of animals in times of crisis; and Garo Alexanian, a New Yorker who volunteered his time as a first responder and organized more than 17 transports of stray animals out of New Orleans to locations around the country for adoption, and secured grant funds for heartworm treatment of animals awaiting adoption.
Following the ceremony, a vegetarian luncheon will be held at the Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel with guest speakers including Wendy Diamond, editor and founder of Animal Fair magazine, and Debrah Schnackenberg, director of animal services for the American Humane Association. Tickets can be purchased prior to the event for $25 by contacting the humane society at email@example.com.
The Humane Society of Louisiana, founded in 1988, has been working in Tylertown, Miss., since it lost its Algiers-based shelter during Katrina. Though much money has been raised to support animal rescue over the past three years, little of that was used to re-establish the New Orleans office.
"Our group is still in exile in Tylertown," Dorson says. "We would like to adopt out more animals so we can come back to the city. This time, we'd like to create an animal cruelty investigation bureau. That's our dream, because we're actually a licensed private detective agency, and our main focus is responding to animal cruelty investigations, so we'd like to return to our original mission."
The group would like to keep Tylertown as an evacuation base in case of future emergencies, and is continuing to work on finding homes for more than 100 rescue animals still waiting to be adopted since Katrina, Dorson says. The organization does bring animals to local adoption fairs, but it has a limited budget available to cover the cost of transportation to and from New Orleans, he says, and volunteers can only take a few at a time.
Those interested in supporting the Humane Society can do so through adoption, monetary gifts, purchasing commemorative merchandise such as the "Paws to Remember" fleur de lis pendant, or by volunteering. Courier service is needed for animals to and from veterinarian appointments as well as adoption fairs, as well as help with the delivery of pet food for housebound pet owners, and various other administrative tasks.
"Any skills you have, we can put them to work," Dorson says.