New film, MINE, examines questions of pet custody after Hurricane Katrina

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Soon to be released at select theaters across the U.S., MINE takes a heart-wrenching yet redemptive look at the struggle of Hurricane Katrina survivors to locate and reclaim their beloved pets as they rebuild their lives.

This striking film delves into the complex world of rescue and rehoming pets when their original parents were forced to leave them behind — a hard subject for pet parents, pet lovers and anyone in the animal welfare industry. (Find a screening near you.)

We caught up with Geralyn Pezanoski, Director of the award-winning documentary, to ask her to tell us a little more about her creation:

MINE the movie, pet custodyWhy did you make this film?
A few weeks after Katrina, I got an email from a friend who had been in New Orleans rescuing animals. Her pictures stunned me.

As the months went on, … I started hearing stories of people
encountering serious resistance to getting their pets back. There was
so much wrong with this situation, yet everyone seemed to be trying to
do the right thing. I had to tell this story.

Find out more about MINE and the Hurricane Katrina rescues after the jump.


Tell us what the film MINE is about?
At its core, [MINE is]
an exploration of the bond between people and animals and how that bond
is intensified in the face of tremendous tragedy and loss.

In response to an unprecedented crisis, thousands of pets were
transported around the country and adopted by new families while their
original guardians were still displaced. MINE chronicles the custody
battles that inevitably arose when two families loved and claimed
ownership over the same pet.

In
this emotionally charged conflict, the two sides are connected by their
love of the animal and are all trying to do the right thing amidst a
broken and chaotic system.

Set in a landscape of poverty,
loss and moral uncertainty, MINE presents the complexity of this
ongoing conflict that has no simple answers. The film is not only an
examination of how we treat our animals, but how we treat each other.

Approximately how many dogs were rescued?
At least 15,000
animals were rescued from New Orleans and the surrounding parishes,
registered on Petfinder, and sent to over 500 shelters around the U.S.
and Canada.

That figure may not be inclusive of other parts of the Gulf Coast, and of course, some rescued pets were reunited with their
families. I suspect there were many more that were relocated but not
documented.

Why do you think this film is important?
MINE shows, in very human terms, the price that is paid when life isn’t
valued, and this goes for all life, human, animal — and our dynamic
living environment. … If anything good is to come out of a tragedy
like Katrina, we have to understand where things went wrong so we can
learn from our failings.

You adopted a “Katrina dog.” What would you do if her previous guardian suddenly came back into the picture?
I fostered and then adopted a little snaggle-toothed pup after Katrina,
and it was the question of “What would I do if Nola’s family wanted her
back?” that really made the process of making this documentary a deeply
personal experience for me. The answer still doesn’t come easy.

To
this day her picture is posted on Petfinder and I still periodically
scour Petfinder, and other New Orleans-based sites where people could
search for their lost pets, and have yet to discover anyone looking for
her by those means. But even if they weren’t looking, it doesn’t mean
they didn’t or don’t love her.

I’d like to think if someone
showed up one day and had the kind of bond with Nola that I feel, I’d
try to put aside my personal attachment and return her. Ultimately, I
think anyone in this position (which for me has always been
hypothetical) would just want to know that this animal is going to be
loved and cared for.

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Do you have a pet custody story to share? Are you an an animal welfare professional or pet parent who has struggled with rehoming lost or abandoned pets? Share your story below:

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