Dark Water Rising: the Truth About Hurricane Katrina Animal Rescues

A few nights ago I watched the newly released film called Dark Water Rising: the Truth About Hurricane Katrina Animal Rescues. Those of us who have been involved with the Katrina animal disaster cannot watch this unbiased. For me, there was not much surprising in the film except the images inside one of the schools in St. Bernard Parish where animals had been murdered. That scene was difficult to watch, especially recognizing a few of the dogs. I thought the film was well-done and, for the most part, told it like it was. It is impossible for any one film or book to cover all aspects of this unprecedented disaster; this DVD has a specific focus and does not try to be the final word on the Katrina animal disaster.

The film focuses almost entirely on the rescue and sheltering efforts of HSUS/Lamar Dixon and the in-your-face dog rescues and commentary by two men from Winn Dixie. It does not mention rescue and sheltering efforts by the other groups. Whatever people's opinion of Best Friends, they were not mentioned or shown, although they played a large role in all of this. Also absent from the film was the Humane Society of Louisiana in Tylertown, Noah's Wish which ran the rescue and sheltering operation in St. Tammany Parish, Pasados, Muttshack, UAN/EARS in Monroe, LA, and Alley Cat Allies. There was no mention of the formation of ARNO when HSUS pulled out in October and the LaSPCA called off rescue operations.

The film portrayed a stark contrast between HSUS/Lamar Dixon and Winn Dixie, making it look as if Wayne Pacelle was there the entire time, fully in charge of the operation. Some of the Winn Dixie rescuers came off looking like juvenile delinquents. Both of these portrayals are exaggerations of what really happened.

Larry Roberts and Aaron Minjares are the two men from Winn Dixie that the film crew followed around. They are pierced, tattooed, with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths, and very vocal in their opinions that the owners do not deserve to get back their dogs. In one disturbing scene, Larry is shown removing the collar with tags from a dog just rescued from inside a house and throwing the collar back into the house, muttering something stupid about what the owner can do with the collar. There is an interesting scene where another volunteer leads the camera crew through the Winn Dixie store at night, asking what kind of liquor everyone wants. She explains that's what they do every night and apologizes that they've "already cleaned out the pharmacy." Mark, the co-founder of Winn Dixie appears in the film only briefly, drunk and slurring whatever it is he was trying to say. The Lamar Dixon volunteers, by contrast to Winn Dixie, came off looking clean-cut, professional and well-organized **

There are many shots of dead and decomposing cats and dogs in addition to the scene inside the school, but the scene that was the hardest for me to watch - and I fast forwarded through it - was a pit-bull fight (film clip was courtesy of HSUS).

I take some issue with the sub-title of the film: The Truth about Hurricane Katrina Animal Rescues. I know that there are many versions of the truth and not an absolute truth to this or any other story. No single film or book or person's experience will capture and convey the truth, other than their subjective experience of it. The core of my truth is that no one expected the levees to break and the city to flood when owners left behind their beloved pets for what would / should have been 24-48 hours.

I think that it's an important film that should be seen by people who have no idea of what went on down there. I hope to organize a screening of it here in conjunction with local rescue events and encourage others to do the same. When possible the film should be followed by discussions and Q & A.

I also want audiences to know what has been happening since the rescues with pets being sent all over the county and the difficulty finding them and reuniting with owners. I want to dispel the idea that these were bad people/bad pet owners who don't deserve their pets back. Personally, I would not have given over the last ten months of my life to help these people get their pets rescued, located and reunited if I didn't believe that they absolutely deserve them back.

We - the hundreds of volunteers who have been helping with this for almost a year now - don't know, assist or work with the bad pet owners. They don't look for their pets and they don't contact us for help. Sadly, they just go out and get replacement pets (to be used as guard dogs, huntin' dogs, chained dogs). The hundreds of pet owners we have had the pleasure and privilege to know and assist are not getting replacement pets because their cats and dogs were members of their families and are irreplaceable.

** My comments are about the portrayal of people and groups, not about the people and groups themselves.


BlackCatAlfa said...

I dont get the mentality behind keeping a true victim of disasters dog, or animal of any kind. Even if you have never been through a natural disater, TV provides enough images to let you know that its horrible on many levels.
There werent only pets floating in the water, there were people. So, if anyone who says or thinks that a Katrina victim wasnt "taking care of" their animal, maybe they can apply that thinking to humans too.

greenconsciousness said...

Thank You for taking the time to write a review of this film - someone left a comment advertisement for it on my blog at this entry:

and under that ad I reprinted your review and left the link to your blog here under your review

I hope that is OK - I don't know how to make it a link they just click on rather than cut and paste in the comment section - if you know how to do that, go over there and do it

Laura Holochwost said...

Thanks for the intelligent and balanced review of this DVD.

dog_dev said...

Correction: Larry is not pierced or tattooed, nor does he smoke. He also spent tens of thousands of his own dollars to ship in feed and ship out animals. I myself would be in jail right now for strangling Wayne Pacelle if I had been there so the fact that he threw a collar does not bother me.

And yes, Wayne did come off looking a lot better than he should of, and there were hundreds of people that DID NOT get credit, but it does show what really happened to the animals and that is what is important.

Anita said...

Whether it was Larry or Aaron or both who smoke and are pierced/tattooed is not really the issue. These were intended as my comments about the film (which I clarified in the original post), but I don't mind going on record to say that I am very disappointed with most of the Winn Dixie rescuers. While there were many problems with HSUS/ Lamar Dixon, there was not a shared, systemic morality based on the illogic that the owners of the rescued pets did not deserve them back. The HSUS system was flawed and fell apart in many places and for many reasons, and God- knows how many pets were given to or taken by groups and individuals who had no business and no right to take them- BUT-the overall system was implemented as one of rescue-intake-shelter-export- reunite.

Winn Dixie, on the other hand, not only encouraged a system of *wink*wink* where everyone took their favorite pets home with them and covered for one another, but clearly the operative shared morality was one of NOT doing anything that might help the pet get back to its owner. Even the relatively few Winn Dixie pets posted on
Petfinder(and then not until Dec,Jan, Feb or even later) contained very little info. Addresses were either not written down (as shown in the film) or lost during "intake" or export.

How many reunions can Winn Dixie claim vs. how many Winn Dixie volunteers are now living with someone else's cat or dog?

greenconsciousness said...

" Whatever people's opinion of Best Friends, they were not mentioned "

WHAT COULD ANYONE POSSIBLY SAY BAD ABOUT BEST FRIENDS???? They were the first outside group members there, they slipped through the police barriers and helped immediately. They were right on the issue of separating owners and pets. They shamed the other groups into telling the media what the govt was doing separating owners and pets, something everyone took too long to start doing.

I am proud of EVERYBODY regardless if they reunited or not, as long as they got a needy animal to a good home .

Yes and I am glad we are talking - talk and discuss ethics - that is good now that you have the time - but it is also important to document HOW you did what you did -- share how you did it - document the details of the systems and how they developed. Publish the effective systems ,

I think there are two primary things to consider while doing reflection and documentation:

1. Louisiana was the fighting capital of the US. The South does have enough legal protection for animals. Yes, some people do not deserve to have their animals back. Some people were forcibly separated from their animals by the government and are frantically looking for their animals. THIS LEADS ME TO CONCLUDE THAT PEOPLE NEED TO BE SCREENED BEFORE THEY GET THEIR ANIMALS BACK - START PUBLISHING WAYS TO TELL THE FIGHTERS, BUNCHERS AND BREEDERS APART FROM GRIEVING CAREGIVERS.

2. We need to document and get our animal registration and return screening procedures evaluated and the effective procedures made part of the new federal legislation which prevents the government from separating owners and pet during evacuation. We need to write the stories that you have seen and publish them with reminders to pass that legislation.

Go to Best Friends new Legal News information section on their website to find out more about the federal legislation that requires pet evacuation planing to part of any FEMA funded effort.

Anonymous said...

This won't have much credibility because I am posting anonymously but I'll say it anyway, that everything that Anita says in her post above is corroborated by similar allegations a former Winn-Dixie volunteer told me months ago(I was looking for someone's dogs that were reportedly taken there). This person told me of a dog who was hidden from the owner when the owner came to get it. The dog was on the premises but a volunteer spirited it away so they could keep it for themselves while the tearful owner sought in vain for her dog.

I cannot imagine anything more cruel and heartless and selfish than keeping an animal from its grieving frantic owner. What kind of sick person does that.

Cathy Stanley said...

Thank you for your review of the film Anita and you were correct in saying that there is no one film that can comprehensively and one hundred percent explain what it was that happened down there. I felt the film did a good job trying to expose a little of the conditions the animals were left in. I myself was a volunteer and I will tell you that I came home with many new judgements about the N.O. pet owners and a lot less sympathy for the human victims I saw on TV. I went into homes were people had been living in dirt and filth WAY before a hurricane came to town - where pet owners had kept dogs chained & tied up for their entire lives. Yes, I judged those people and I am not normally a judgemental or angry person. I saw dead dogs in middle class neighborhoods where people had cars and the ability to evacuate with their pets, and made the choice not to. There was no mention that more than 80% of the animals in N.O. had heartworm, and this is due to neglectful owners - not the hurricane. I personally brought four dogs back to Los Angeles, by myself. I did post them all on Petfinder (except for the one dog whose owner returned, vacated her home and left her dog behind to starve to death). One of the three dogs has since died from heartworm and the others are finally doing better, after gaining their strength back and getting proper medical treatment for their heartworm. I have personally, spent thousands of dollars of my own funds, on just these four dogs (one dog had microscoptic surgery to remove her heartworms, because she was too emaciated and weak to survive the shot treatment - this surgery saved her life). After sixty days of posting the dogs on Petfinder (per the Louisiana State Law), I made the decision to place them in good loving homes - and removed their pics. These animals could not continue to be in transition - they needed new permanent and safe homes, with pet owners who were going to actually care for them. (none of these animals had tags, were microchipped, or were spayed/neutered, in addition to all having heartworm) So the criticism of the Winn-Dixie volunteers really makes me angry, as these people, much like myself - went down there at great personal sacrifice - to save lives. Not a single one of these volunteers, I'm sure, were there to steal people's pets and keep them for themselves. Believe me, there are plenty of worthy animals in everyone's hometown - you don't have to travel to Louisiana to steal a pet. I didn't personally work with any of the Winn-Dixie people, I helped out at Lamar-Dixon and Pasado's - and had starkly contrasting experiences with each (Pasado had their act together, while HSUS was turning away volunteers) I'm sorry if I sound angry, but I realized after watching the film today - that I still am very angry - about all of it. I am collecting rescuer's stories to post on my website at KatrinaDogRescue.com and I welcome anyone to share their experiences. I haven't updated the site in awhile and I realize that it was something I wanted to do - to have rescuers a place to permanenetly post their stories, pictures & videos. Thank you to everyone who spent time down there to help. Every person who showed up made a difference in an animal's life.

Jennifer said...

Personally after Katrina I saw photos of New Orleanians in tears, even wailing, literally forced to leave their animals behind *by the government*. I would guess animals found post-Katrina would be sickly animals! They had been under extreme, extreme duress. The guy who threw the collar was an asshole with alot of self righteous, contemptuos energy. So putting a collar on your dog with contact info. is suddenly now a sign you DON'T love your animal.
Supposedly 80 percent had heartworm? I doubt that, but if it's true, I'd like to learn more about that "fact". It disgusts me to see your comments judging the people of New Orleans.

I have friends and family in every corner of New Orleans, and they loved and love their cats and dogs. My cousin's dogs floated away on a roof to MS. and they were OVERJOYED to be reunited with my cousin. It would be a tragedy had they not been reunited, she loves them dearly. She is in her 60s and they are older dogs.
People in NewOrleans did not think Katrina would be "Katrina". You may find it hard to understand if you aren't from there.
Many people I know never even left during any hurricane, ever! (Including my 64yrold uncle who, loves animals and feeds all the neighborhood cats.)

They certainly didn't think they'd go home to never see their beloved pets again. All of my family to a last lost their homes, as well as all or most of their possessions, several others lost their jobs. (N.O. fired -not layed off-fired- every teacher and every principal in the city after Katrina.)
I worked for over a year at a no-kill sanctuary in LA. While some of the volunteers and co workers were wonderful, I began to realize that a disturbingly marked number of animal rescuers have little perspective on helping or truly empathizing with animals-- it is not about respecting animals but many are simply control freaks.

They are loathe to let anyone adopt an animal for many random reasons, though they themselves won't adopt the said animal. They think you're evil if you allow your cat outside-- sorry but after working in a sanctuary and seeing how depressed the cats are, even in a no-kill sanctuary w/no cages, compared to indoor-outdoor cats I know-- I think it's better to let cats be indoor/outdoor. Even though sometimes they do fall prey to what is outside. At least they lived free. This is about human need to control and dominate, not about loving and certainly not empathizing with animals. How would you like to be forced to live inside the rest of your days?
These small minded people don't love animals anymore than a many poor people in the Lower9th they might judge. Listen some of these people can barely afford diabetes medications. If they die their cat or dog will have no one to care for him/her.

Basically unless you are rich some think you shouldn't have an animal, which, of course, is stupid considering the majority of Americans are not rich and a lot of animals who need homes. Education on how to treat animals is so important, and I will always speak out for animals, but seeing NewOrleanians in general trashed when they were already on their knees, as supposedly being not kind to animals (re Cathy Stanley's post) is disgusting and disingenious. It wreaks of classism too. And remember if you take your animals to a vet who declaws (aka most vets) you are really kidding yourself about whose on the animals' side.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I know this is an old post and that it's been years since you watched and commented on the docu. I was still hoping you kind of remembered whereabouts in the movie was the disturbing the St. Bernard Parish murdered dog scene? I just watched this (and Animal Heroes, which correct me if I'm wrong, was practically the same film) and apparently missed it. Not that I need another sad image... but curiousity is getting the better of me. Thanks.

PS. Thanks for your review of the film and for your efforts in the animal rescues.