Dog and cat owners face the financial repercussions of the disaster in the gulf

July 14, 2010 08:51 PM

Amy Lavignette has 11 reasons to worry about the oil spill in the gulf: Patches, Fluffy, Marilyn, Elvis, Presley, Mim-Mim, Dice, Marley, Little Bit, Pretty Girl and Scary.

As a resident of the Plaquemines Parish, a region in Louisiana that looks to the sea for industry, her husband used to troll for shrimp for a living. But the last time he went out, he only caught two, and it’s getting harder for her to put food on the table – for her 11 cats.

She’s hoping the gulf will start to clear up before August, when the shrimp are usually plentiful. But until then, she’s doing everything she can to keep her cats, including giving them food donated from a local shelter.

“People don’t think about it, but you still gotta feed your animals,” she tells “Your animals are like your kids. They’re helpless. They depend on you.”

It’s been more than two months since the Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, and for the fishermen and workers who have consequently lost their jobs, the economics of a disaster is a reality. And while the images of birds and other wildlife tainted by the oil have become familiar faces on the news, dogs and cats along the coast are gradually becoming the unsung victims of the spill.

Pets in Crisis
The Plaquemines Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) bears witness to the ways people change their lifestyles in the wake of crisis. Jacob Stroman, the director of the no-kill shelter, is looking for people like Lavignette – pet owners who want to keep their animals in their home and out of the shelter.

PAWS has already distributed kibble to about 75 people who have been hit hard by the spill, especially those in the fishing industries. The food was supplied by the Humane Society of the United States, which donated 12 tons of dog and cat chow for pet owners living along the Louisiana Gulf Coast.

Sometimes, though, food isn’t enough, and Stroman is beginning to take in dogs and cats from people who can no longer afford to care for them. They are shih tzus, like Gizmo (above), a 1 1/2-lb., 3-month-old ball of black and white fluff. Or lovable mutts like Brownie, who resembles a mix between a chow and a golden retriever. They come in all shapes, sizes and fur coats – and all have one thing in common: They need homes.

“If [people are] not feeding their families, they’re certainly not going to feed their pet,” Stroman says.

The waiting list at PAWS is about 20 percent longer than usual at this time of the year, and the shelter is trying to make room by transporting as many pets as possible to other no-kill shelters across the country.

Katrina Revisited
This isn’t the first time disaster has left pet owners and shelters scrambling. Beth Brewster, the director of the St. Bernard Parish Animal Shelter in Violet, La., remembers what happened five years ago when Hurricane Katrina hit and left an estimated 600,000 pets dead or homeless as 80 percent of New Orleans was submerged in water.

The Bernard Parish animal shelter was completely rebuilt and now accommodates 36 dogs and 64 cats. This expansion is coming in handy: Last May, the shelter had a total intake of 60 pets for the month. This May, that number more than quadrupled to 288 pets.

“I think that people start cutting back, and unfortunately, some people feel like the one way that they can cut back is the cost of pet food,” Brewster says. “We’re really starting to see the oil spill in the last two months, and I think it’s just going to get worse. The last thing you want to do is give up your pet.”

Lavignette insists she won’t be giving up her pets any time soon, but she understands how desperate the times are and how some people are forced to sacrifice the pets they love.

“Anybody that has a heart – you get attached to your animals,” she says. “But if you can’t take care of them, you’d rather give them to someone who could.”

To learn more about the Plaquemines Animal Welfare Society or make a donation, visit their website. To learn more about the St. Bernard Parish Animal Shelter or make a donation, visit their website.

Read more about the oil spill on
The Gulf Oil Spill’s Helpless Victims: Wildlife
Rescuers Prepare to Treat Animals Injured in Gulf Oil Spill

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