by William Fagaly (Curator of African Art at New Orleans Museum of Art)

On a Southeast Asia trip, a member of our tour group relayed his tale of reuniting with his cat, Marie, after Hurricane Katrina. William Fagaly lives and works in the heart of New Orleans, as New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) curator of African art. Friends were concerned for this single gentleman's fate during the disaster, but he was bemused that the first question asked was "Have you found Marie, Bill?" After countless attempts at locating Marie, Bill could finally answer queries:"I found Marie!!!" was the heading of his emailed response. It went viral and ended up being mentioned in major eastern seaboard publications. Bill held true to his promise of sharing this sweet story in order that our readers benefit from lessons learned.

After contacting every animal rescue agency known to man and registering with them, I arrive in Gonzales, La. to live in a convent (!!!...who knew))? While there, I heard about a place called the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in town that was taking in human evacuees. That name sounded familiar from my hunting on the internet for animal rescue operations. Sure enough, I had written their name down while I was in Houston, so what a coincidence that I was staying in the small Louisiana town where the Humane Society of the United States had set up their rescue headquarters. Soooo, I went to Wal-Mart and had a set of keys made for my house and went to Lamar-Dixon. (This is the most amazing place...hundreds and thousands of dogs, cats, horses, mice, snakes, potbellied pigs, you name it...all there barking, meowing, whinnying...with hundreds of volunteers and veterinarians, wearing HSUS tee shirts efficiently doing their work. There are brigades of animal rescue trucks from all states in the country) I registered with them, filled out forms and instructions on how to get in the house and find Marie. They were not accustomed to accepting keys to houses, but took them and we taped them to the hand written forms which had to be typed out and computerized. This was at 11:30 at night on Wednesday.

As I was being helicoptered in to the Museum every day, there was no way for me to go to the FQ to get her myself, and even if I had a vehicle, there was flooding and many downed trees making such a trip impossible.

On Friday our NYPD command post for the security of NOMA was transferred from a shopping center parking lot in the suburbs to the front of the Museum. I drove my car in their convoy on a very circuitous route (for those of you who know N.O.: down Clearview Parkway to the base the Huey P. Long Bridge, Jefferson Highway to River Road to Saint Charles Avenue and Carrollton down St. Charles to Canal Street to Decater through the Quarter to Esplanade and up Esplanade to City Park and NOMA) After finishing my work at NOMA, I was finally going to get an opportunity to go rescue Marie myself.

Fearful of what I would find, I opened the door and Marie was nowhere in the house. (I did discover she had a nice fresh sparrow dinner however, as there were feathers scattered on the rugs.) I concluded all the animal rescue agencies I had registered with online could not have been the ones who took her as the keys I told them that were hidden in the alleyway between my house and the neighbour’s were still there and had not been moved. That left one answer....the HSUS at Lamar-Dixon had gotten her. Therefore, I hightailed it back to Gonzales (50 miles away) to Lamar-Dixon.

When I arrived, I went to the desk and said that I wanted to pick up my cat and inquired how that was done. They told me that I should go through all the horse stalls where all the cats were being kept in individual cages. So off I go looking for Marie, calling her name over and over. (Such beautiful cats (I saw) all sitting in their cages looking at me or curled up in their kitty litter box asleep.) There was one cage on the ground and when I peered in, there was a cat that looked like it could be Marie but I wasn't sure as it was dark and she is dark grey. I looked at the papers attached to the cage, and it said *** (my address.) Eureka! That’s Marie!

I went back to the desk and said, "I have found my cat." With that, everyone stopped what they were doing, looked up, smiled and started cheering and clapping! It seems they have rarely heard those words spoken. When I sheepishly admitted I had inadvertently left her carrying case at my house, they said not to worry...they had one for me.

After I collected Marie in her case and was walking away happy as a lark, a guy came up and introduced himself as the editor of the HSUS newsletter. He asked if he could interview Marie and me for a story as this was such a rare occurrence. We sat on the ground and I unfolded this same story to him. He took our picture and said the story should appear in a forthcoming issue online at

So, look out for it and GIVE A NICE BIG DONATION TO THE HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES for all the fine work they are doing.
© William Fagaly, 2011

Disaster Contingency Plans:
Although Bill’s story is very uplifting, thoughts do nag as one wonders if he had been better prepared, whether this search might have been easier. It is a cat, not a dog, which got caught up in this unfortunate series of events, so maybe Bill couldn’t locate “Marie” quickly enough for transport to a safe location. I recall that he thought his housekeeper would make certain provisions for Marie, but plans appear to have gone awry, as Mr. Fagaly headed off to work that fateful day. Also, it did come as a surprise that rescuers, such as the Red Cross, weren’t permitting the rescued to bring their pets. During Katrina, the welfare of pets was not a top priority.

While many of us have given some consideration to how we’ll manage a disaster, pets may not have been given sufficient thought. Thank you to Suzanne Solin, Rescue Chair of the Lowchen Club of America for directing us to these links:
© The Lowchen Guardian, 2011