Hurricane Katrina Animal Rescue: IFAW Saves Dogs and Cats

Following the devastating Hurricane Katrina, which hit the US Gulf States in August 2005, IFAW’s Animal Rescue team deployed to rescue and relocate animals. The IFAW team was based in Gonzales, Louisiana, 50 miles outside of New Orleans.

Working with state authorities, IFAW conducted door-to-door search and animal rescue operations in areas where evacuees were forced to leave their pets behind, helping to rescue and relocate thousands of animals as well as reunite hundreds of people with their missing pets.

IFAW also helped coordinate the massive request for pet supplies and shelter assistance from local organizations such as the Louisiana SPCA and Louisiana State University Vet School.

Hurricane Katrina brought with it the realization that the pet population in the Gulf Coast states of Louisiana and Mississippi was spiraling out of control: Nearly 80 percent of dogs and cats in the region were not spayed or neutered.

Together, leading animal welfare organizations–ASPCA, PetSmart Charities, Humane Society of the United States, United Animal Nations and IFAW—funded a $3.2 million spay/neuter program in areas affected by the hurricane.

The collaborative partnered with Spay/ Louisiana, Mississippi SPAN and Humane Society of South Mississippi in an ambitious program called the Gulf Coast Spay/Neuter Recovery Project.

The Gulf Coast Spay / Neuter Recovery Project funded four initiatives:

1. High-volume spay/neuter clinics in New Orleans, Louisiana and Gulfport, Mississippi

  • Spay/Louisiana opened a regional clinic in the New Orleans area in early 2007. The facility was able to serve 25 parishes with a combined population of 2.58 million people and a population of more than 1.66 million cats and dogs--an estimated 221,000 lived in households that fell below the federal poverty threshold.
  • The Humane Society of South Mississippi opened a 5,000-square-foot clinic in Gulfport in June 2006, performing spay/neuter surgeries for 20 dogs and cats per day.
  • Transport vans at both clinics offered free pick-up and delivery for clients within a 90-mile radius, making affordable spay/neuter more widely accessible and enabling feral cat caretakers and animal rescuers to have dozens of animals altered during one visit.

2. Voucher programs in Mississippi and Louisiana


  • Spay/Louisiana subsidized vouchers for spay/neuter surgeries performed by a designated network of veterinary hospitals and clinics. Spay/Louisiana performed 8,000 surgeries in the first year.


  • With funding, Mississippi SPAN was able to more than double the size of its statewide voucher program from 3,800 vouchers to 8,000 vouchers a year.

3. “The Big Fix Rig”

  • The Big Fix Rig is a 53-foot, tractor-trailer outfitted as a mobile spay/neuter clinic for cats with the capacity to accommodate 120 sterilizations per day.
  • The rig contains four surgical tables and three prep tables and is designed to be converted into an emergency transportation vehicle.
  • The rig spent one year in Mississippi and Louisiana, traveling to locations affected by Hurricane Katrina. It stayed in each location for at least one week.
  • Surgical services on the Big Fix Rig were provided by local veterinarians.

4. Spay/Neuter attitude assessment

To help the local agencies better understand the needs and attitudes of their target population and plan programs, funding supported a survey of animal caregivers and veterinarians to gauge public and professional attitudes toward spaying and neutering.