A Note on the Forgotten

I will be completely honest: when I was watching Levees, the one thing that didn’t cross my mind was the absence of animals. I mean, I love them, but maybe I was just so caught up in the powerful narratives of Lee’s documentary? As Beth said, Levees is “a work of art.” It’s supposed to move us. When Beth brought up animals in the classes afterward, I was stunned that I had forgotten about them. What happens to people’s beloved pets when they are forced to evacuate due to a natural disaster? I decided to look more into it.

Many people were forced to leave their pets behind in the devastation of Hurricane Katrina because places of refuge would not allow them. Often owners either refused to leave their pets, or left their pets at home hoping it was was just a temporary separation. However, this separation was proved permanent, when either owners didn’t return, or dogs and cats were lost or died drowning in the flood. According to this article, the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that about 70 thousand pets were left in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, and only 15 thousand were rescued. Of that, only 20% were reunited with their owners. These numbers are disturbingly enormous.  This reminds me of Roach when he says, “violence is the performance of waste.” In relation to Roach, not only had people and the government engage in the practice of “forgetting” about animals and that they are living, breathing creatures with needs, but also performed an act of violence and waste toward them when these creatures were left to suffer and die. I question why it took such an overwhelming amount of loss and trauma for people to learn?

It was only after this devastating amount of loss (**about 70,000**) that the country decided that the lives of pets, and the bond they share with humans, were much too valuable to be disregarded, especially during natural disasters. In 2006, Congress passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS) which, according to the American Veterinarian Medical Association, “authorizes FEMA to provide rescue, care, shelter, and essential needs for individuals with household pets and service animals, and to household pets and service animals following a major disaster or emergency.” Now after hurricanes and other natural disasters, there are shelters that provide a place for pets to stay and get the support they need. If you go to the FEMA website, the PETS Act is broken down into specifics. What I found interesting was that on page 8, FEMA defines exactly what a “household pet” means. It says, “A domesticated animal (/service animal), such as a dog, bird, rabbit, rodent, or turtle…” It goes on to say that the PETS Act does not recognize any reptiles or farm animals as pets. I feel like this is such a narrow definition for a pet, and it brings me back to our conversation in class about categories and the way things are framed. What makes an animal a pet (in the eyes of FEMA’s plan), and why? Because a pet is not a dog, a cat, or a rabbit, is it not recognized as having a life worth saving? It seems as though there’s a sort of hierarchy at play. People often say that they “love all animals,” or are an advocate for animal rights, but do they really mean “all?” Or is it just the “common ones,” like the ones FEMA listed?

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