10 Years Later: Animal welfare in Louisiana after Katrina

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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) -- Nearly 10 years ago, the world watched as Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.  This week, the 2015 Animal Care Expo at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, looks at how Katrina is changing the way people respond to disasters and the pets in harm's way.  WGNO reporter Deepak Saini introduces you to a man and his dog who know all about the need.

In Katrina's aftermath, hundreds of thousands of animals were left to fend for themselves.

"Katrina was a wake-up moment for the country in the power of the human-animal bond.  Emergency response teams did not have any positive instructions in rescuing the animals.  A lot of people stayed behind because they wouldn't abandon their family members, their pets," says Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Donald Harris refused to be rescued if it meant having to leave his 6-month old puppy, Theory, behind.

"Telling me I can't bring my family with me, that's crazy. Telling me I can't bring him, I have to leave him behind. I made an oath."

10 years later, Donald is being honored for that Oath at the 2015 Animal Care Expo.  And all these years later, Theory is still beside him.  For hundreds of attendees, this is their first time back in New Orleans since helping rescue animals after the storm.  For the nation, it was a big wake-up call.

"We need to have a pre-existing plan that needs to be thought through, need to run through drills. We didn't have that before Katrina in a number of areas, including animal rescue," says Sen. David Vitter.

Immediately after Katrina, laws were changed so pets could be evacuated with their owners, and in the decade since, animal welfare in Louisiana has come a long way.

"Since that time we've outlawed cockfighting, we've passed laws on puppy mills, we've strengthened the state's animal cruelty code," says Pacelle.

A lot has changed in 10 years, but the bond between man and his best friend has stayed the same.

"People ask me if I would do it all over again. When it comes to him, yes," says Harris.

More than 2,300 people from all over the world are attending the Animal Care Expo.  It's the largest turnout the Humane Society of the United States has ever seen.

The Humane Society of the United States awarded $1 million in grants to animal shelters and veterinary programs.

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