As Hurricane Katrina bore down on New Orleans, the mayor issued a last-minute order for everyone to evacuate. In the clamor to get out of the city, many pet owners left their animals with food and water, fully intending to return in a few days. People without the means to leave the city on their own were forced onto busses and barred from bringing the furriest family members along.
The result was that tens of thousands of domesticated pets were left in a devastated city. Those that survived the storm and the floods faced grim odds of surviving the heat without fresh water or enough food to last the weeks or months before their owners were permitted back into the city to rescue them. MINE follows some of the hundreds of volunteers who mobilized in the hours and days after the storm, entering the city and capturing as many stranded pets as they could find. These volunteers often provided life-saving medical care to the injured, dehydrated, and hungry animals. Massive temporary animal shelters sprung up in the suburbs of New Orleans, where the lucky pets who survived waited to be reunited with their owners or adopted out.
It would not be easy or quick, or without ethical quandaries and lawsuits. MINE tracks the stories of several of the rescued pets, their original owners, and their adopted families, raising questions about what constitutes pet “ownership” and how we regard animals as both family members and property.
One of the cruelties of Katrina was how it cast the refugee diaspora to the furthest reaches of the nation. Many New Orleans residents had no homes to return to, and were barred by police and National Guard troops from reentering their neighborhoods to look for their animals. Many had no means of reaching the animal shelters, since they had been bussed and flown to Houston, or Chicago, or Los Angeles.
Rescue groups went about trying to find homes for the pets in their care, sometimes erroneously designating them as “owner surrender” or “stray.” People around the country opened their homes to Katrina dogs and cats, giving them loving homes and bonding with them. It was convenient for adoptive families to imagine that the animals had been abandoned by their owners, or that their owners had been neglectful; some people went so far as to say that Katrina was the best thing that could have happened to those pets. For some, that may well have been true. But many displaced pet owners were conducting tireless and frantic online searches for their lost pets, often feeling overwhelming amounts of helplessness, grief, and guilt for having had to leave them behind. No comprehensive system for reuniting Katrina pets and owners ever existed.
In the fraught cases of the rescued pets and people portrayed in MINE, the original owners' fight to get their animals back forces us to ask what makes a pet “ours.” Is love enough?
Filmmaker Geralyn Pezanoski provided an update in August 2009 on how some of the people and pets featured in MINE have been doing since filming ended:
Murphy Brown is still happy and healthy and living with Ron and Ellen in Marin County, California. They’ve become friends with Debbie and Mary, the rescuers in St. Louis who worked to locate Murphy Brown for Gloria.
Malvin and Bandit moved into their newly remodeled house. Sandra still talks to him often and when asked what’s new, Malvin maintains, “Nothing much changes around here — except for the weather sometimes.”
Malvin turned 90 on January 17th of this year.
The last time we heard from Linda in 2008, she said she needed to move on and focus on taking care of her mother and children. They’re still living in Baton Rouge and don’t have plans to return to New Orleans.
Jessie Pullins was reunited with JJ after almost four years. Despite the potential stresses of flying and being met by crowds and camera flashes, JJ emerged relatively calm and appeared at ease at Jessie’s side. Jessie’s wife, Lorraine, and their kids are still living in Houston where they’ll stay until the kids finish school and Lorraine can transfer her job to New Orleans.
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