Ph.D Candidate Documents Animal Rescue Work from Hurricane Katrina

Laure Dykas, chemistry Ph.D candidate, is filming a documentary titled “Animal Rescue Katrina.”  Pictured below are rescued animals living in shoreline shelters, photographed by Dykas during her interviews with animal shelter managers.
Posted 05/28/06
It was the smell that let chemistry Ph.D candidate Laure Dykas know the Waveland, Miss. animal shelter was going to be horrific before she even stepped inside.

The potent odors emanating from the shelter were seeping through the small cement-brick structure. It was 88 degrees inside, only an oscillating fan kept the 40-some animals cool.

“You could tell these animals were miserable. Their little faces told you that much,” Dykas says. “There was also the cutest puppy, blind from one eye. He got up, clutching the cage, whimpering. These animals all had food and water but they were barely surviving. I took it all in and I felt the strongest overwhelming feeling of despair go through me.”

Dykas, co-owner of Studio Mythopoetika, filmed the shelter May 7 as part of a documentary titled “Animal Rescue Katrina.” She and her husband, Joe, started the film company in 2004 as an outlet for their artistic interests. The couple spent one week in Hurricane Katrina-affected areas filming several overcrowded animal shelters and interviews with animal rescue personnel.

At least 100,000 animals died as result of Katrina. Many people who were evacuated after Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf states were not allowed to take their animals with them, and thousands of animals were left behind. Several of the animals left behind starved to death waiting for their families to return. Others died of disease and some were shot to death.

To date about 12,000 have been rescued. The shelter in Waveland was the worst scenario they encountered. The shelter’s owner ran the facility with two volunteers. They survived off a few donations and no city support. The shelter and the animals were all the owner had. She lost her own home to the hurricane. She was doing all she could do.

Dykas also shot footage of an investigation involving poor New Orleans residents who were told to leave their dogs and cats during the city’s evacuation in three schools in New Orleans. Local officials told the residents the animals would be cared for there until the families returned. The animals, however, were left to die, either of starvation or were shot to death.

“I saw the photographs of the conditions and it just eats me alive that I didn’t go down there in 2005 when I heard about this,” Dykas says. “It’s just unbelievable in this day in age that things like this can happen.”

In their documentary journeys, Laure and Joe Dykas visited the St. Francis sanctuary in Tylertown, Miss.; the Concordia Animal Welfare Shelter in Ferriday, La.; the Humane Society of Southern Mississippi in Gulfport, Miss.; PAWS, Plaquemine’s Animal Welfare in Belle Chasse, La.;Lamar Dixon, Miss., a temporary shelter used for four weeks after Katrina struck. She accompanied a volunteer from the Animal Rescue of New Orleans, trapping feral cats in New Orleans Historical District and New Orleans East. She also interviewed Chris McLaughlin, founder of Animal Rescue Front of Massachusetts, who has organized transports of animals from Mississippi to the North East.

The Dykas’s interviewed Louisiana State Senator Heulette “Clo” Fontenot in Baton Rouge. The senator has proposed a bill titled Pet Evacuation Bill in Louisiana that will ensure that pets will be evacuated with their families in the event of another disaster. They also interviewed long-time animal rescuer Jane Garrison, co-founder of Animal Rescue New Orleans.

Dykas says her documentary will be about 60 minutes long. She and her husband are going through more than 12 hours of tape to create the film, which she describes as “objective reality.” She hopes to have it completed by Katrina’s one year anniversary in late August.

“We’re dedicating the documentary to all the animal rescuers and the families who lost their animal best friends, and in memory of all the animals that died during and after Katrina,” Dykas says. “The volunteers who are working with these animals are amazing, self-sacrificing people and they inspire me to want to be like that.”

She has relied on her savings and donations to pay for all expenses incurred. Dykas hopes to show the documentary in film festivals and eventually on television stations. A percentage of the revenue from the film will be donated to all the shelters featured in the film.

Dykas hopes to graduate with her Ph.D in chemistry in 2007 and teach at the high school or collegiate level. Her husband, who is working two jobs to support the family, will devote more time to art. Both will continue to run Studio Mythopoetika.

Meanwhile, Dykas is going to finish her FEMA certification in the event of another natural disaster.

“Every town needs to have an evacuation plan, and animals need to be included in it,” she says. I hope that the government will reconsider the fact that pets are part of the family and you cannot sever that bond between people and their animals.”

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor