Orphans of Katrina

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PHOENIX -- It's been almost five years since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Region, killing nearly 2,000 people and leaving more than 250,000 with no place to call home. But they weren't the only ones displaced. A Valley woman shares her story of the many volunteers who risked it all to save the orphaned animals of Katrina.

“At first I thought it was a movie and then I realized it was a city, an American city, and it was New Orleans,” Karen O’Toole said.

O'Toole is talking about the devastation Hurricane Katrina delivered five years ago this month.

“There was a helicopter panning and I realized over all those homes that 60 percent of those homes had multiple pets inside them and I'm thinking, wow, they're all dying inside right now,” O’Toole said.

This realization put her and many other volunteers in a race against time to save all the abandoned animals in New Orleans. O’Toole tells the story in her new book called "Orphans of Katrina."

“The reason I started to write it was because all the books coming out were these happy reunion stories and glory photo albums of animals swimming to safety and that's not what happened in New Orleans,” O’Toole said.

O’Toole lived in a parking lot for four months. Every day she and others went out looking for animals, even breaking into abandoned homes, trying to find any of them alive.

“The next thing you knew is you shut the door behind you to contain the animal and you're in a fight of your life with an animal that wants to kill you,” O’Toole said. “It’s because he's scared to death, starving to death, lost his family, went through a hurricane and now he hears windows breaking and people show up.”

But the stories of animal survival and heartbreak in Katrina aren't O’Toole’s only passion. She's also concerned about what is going on in the shelter system today and what you can do locally.

In the book, O’Toole also talks about adopting animals from places like Maricopa County Animal Care and Control plus the importance of spaying and neutering and having proper identification. She said doing these small things can be the difference between life and death in or out of a disaster.

“You have to spay and neuter,” O’Toole said. “You have to put identification on your pet. These are not big things and this probably will save their lives.”

You can buy "Orphans of Katrina" online at www.amazon.com or www.orphansofkatrina.com.