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New Orleans' animals suffering in aftermath of Katrina

NEW ORLEANS—The howls and yelps and barks that pierce the eerie silence of the New Orleans night torture James Lalande as he stirs in his bed.

The abandoned pets are the reason Lalande can't sleep, and the reason he won't leave his city.

New Orleans residents abandoned thousands of pets in their hasty retreat, leaving many to fend for themselves in the ghostly streets, with others locked in houses and apartments or tied up in yards, according to local animal specialists.

All over the city, animals face a horrible fate. The locked-up pets are starving. In the famed New Orleans aquarium, more than a third of the 4,000 fish have died because there's no power to pump oxygen into the tanks. In the zoo, a skeleton staff of 12 is struggling to feed and get water to 1,400 hungry and thirsty animals with limited emergency provisions.

"It's just overwhelming," said Laura Maloney, the executive director of the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "There are countless thousands of abandoned pets in the city. And hundreds and hundreds are stuck inside their homes."

Maloney said she'd been flooded with calls from residents who left pets in their homes. Many people were forced to abandon their pets because they weren't allowed to take them on the evacuation buses.

For the past few days, about 10 volunteers have been going to addresses where people have left animals and are breaking in to save them, Maloney said.

"Mostly, they get in by breaking windows or getting on a second-floor balcony," she said.

Not everyone in New Orleans left pets behind. Lalande, like many city residents, refuses to evacuate without his dog, Charlie, and his cats, Miranda and Babettes.

"I've never cried in my life, but the saddest thing in the world is when all night long you hear dogs crying; big dogs, little dogs, medium dogs," said Lalande, 62. "People left thinking they'd be gone two or three days, but now they can't come back and their pets are starving. Tomorrow, I'm breaking in and feeding dogs."

Penny Khoza and her daughter, Rhonda Hanus, clung to a bare-bones existence at Khoza's apartment complex uptown because they wouldn't leave their pets behind.

"He's a joy to me," Hanus said, running her fingers over the head of her 6-week-old mutt, Jack. "He's like a child I could never have. I was a woman not able to have children. We have enough here right now to tide us over."

"Enough" is a few bottles of water, some packed snacks and canned food, and no running water or electricity.

Stray pets have formed packs and are roaming the abandoned city, scavenging for whatever food they can get.

Deidre Rick, 24, took in one of them. Rick, a bartender at Johnny White's Sports Bar, found a pit bull at her bar doorstep on Bourbon Street after the hurricane. She named the dog Katrina.

"Somebody abandoned him, so I decided to take him in, but I don't want to leave him now," she said. "We've got a bunch of dog food that we got from looters."

Ron Forman, the chief executive officer of Audubon Nature Institute, said his animal attractions were in bad shape, especially the city's aquarium, where they've lost more than 500 fish and two otters. Two other endangered mammals, California sea otters, are struggling to live.

"They're big furry animals with big eyes," said Forman, whose 18-hour workday Saturday was interrupted for three hours when he got stuck in an elevator at the Hyatt hotel as emergency generators lost power. "We're going to evacuate them in helicopters."

The zoo fared better. Although the Jaguar Jungle attraction looks like a scene out of the film "Jurassic Park," with fallen palms, eucalyptus and willow trees blocking the path, the animals mostly survived and are secure. One of the huge alligators is missing, however, and some birds from the aviary died.

But the Siamang monkeys, Francis and Crown, still hoot at a visitor, and Jean the elephant makes a special trip out of her cave for leaves from fallen oak branches.

Dan Maloney, the zoo's curator and husband of Laura Maloney, said the zoo revamped its contingency plan for hurricane preparation in the early 1990s under the advice of Miami's Metrozoo, which sustained major damage after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Maloney's new plan secured generators to keep food refrigerated for the animals, for example.

Maloney said that although the zoo animals were traumatized by the hurricane, they'd recovered quickly, faster than the humans would. But he said that without the dedication of his exhausted staff, they wouldn't survive for long.

"Unlike the people," Maloney said, "the animals don't have a choice to leave, so we stay with them."

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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