Tonight on PBS: Katrina's Lost Dogs


Airing TONIGHT (February 16, 2010) on PBS! The film is "MINE," part of the Independent Lens series on PBS. Set your DVRs or VCRs now, as this one will not be streaming online after airing! Check your local listings; in most markets it airs at 10pm.

Tonight on PBS's Independent Lens, watch the story of New Orleans pet owners who were separated from their pets during Hurricane Katrina. The documentary is called MINE -- echoing the pet owners' frequent refrain ("This dog is mine!") as they try to get their pets back from new owners who have rescued them. It's a complicated and emotional film, examining a series of pet-related issues that arose after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In a nutshell, here's what went down:

First, the (human) residents of New Orleans were evacuated as Katrina approached. In some cases the residents left their animals behind, thinking they could be retrieved within days; in others, owners were forcibly separated from their animals by the National Guard. In many cases, evacuating owners didn't have the resources to take their pets with them, leaving pets in their homes with stockpiles of food and water. In the aftermath of Katrina, animal rescue organizations rounded up as many animals as they could, placing them in temporary shelters and tagging the houses. One poignant spray-painted message on a house read: "Petfinder: 1 cat rescued, 1 cat inside."

But then two problems coincided: Hurricane Rita hit (preventing many residents from returning to New Orleans), and the shelters filled up with animals. So the animals were moved around the US, in many cases being adopted outright rather than entering foster care. When residents later tried to claim their pets, those pets already had new families, new names, and new homes -- often far from New Orleans. Now the issue became a legal one. As one (former) pet owner says in the film, "A dog is family; the law says it's property." Lawsuits were filed in an attempt to get the animals back to their original owners, and many well-intentioned people (staff at rescue agencies and the adopting families) were hurt along the way.

So MINE is the story of what happens when pets are lost, and how hard it is to get them back. Years in the making, the film shows actual recovery efforts days after Katrina, and follows multiple pet owners' stories as they try to get their pets back. Some succeed, some fail. Warning: if scenes of animals in danger upset you, you may want to avoid this film, or at least the first half hour of it. While it's not "graphic" in any sense, I found the footage of animals being rescued from waterlogged New Orleans homes tragic and hard to watch. Fortunately, the filmmakers quickly move past that part of the story, and at the end, you're rewarded with some truly heartwarming scenes of dogs greeting their owners after up to a year apart. Here's the trailer:

For more on MINE, see the PBS website (don't miss the "Update" portion on this page), and the MINE website which includes local showtimes in movie theaters.