WHY IS THE sight of an animal in distress sometimes more heartbreaking than watching a human suffer? We’re not cold-blooded (although we hate to see a lizard in pain), but creatures without agency helpless against powerful forces provoke strong feelings of pity and dismay.

So be aware that even those less susceptible to puppy- and kitty-wuv will need to bring a handkerchief to the AFI Silver‘s screening of “Mine.”

Geralyn Pezanoski‘s feature debut is short at 81 minutes, but its scope is wide — and heartbreaking. The filmmaker flew into New Orleans in the horrifying aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Like many of us, she watched animals parked on the rooftops of drowning homes and saw small bands of citizens set out to search homes for beasts left behind.

Intrigued, Pezanoski kept her camera on for what Paul Harvey used to call the rest of the story. Many fleeing or evacuated citizens returned home to find not only their houses missing but their pets vanished — carried away by the waters or put in the care of well-meaning adoptive or foster homes.

Mine” wisely focuses on a handful of these stories. It’s a smart move, since Pezanoski’s able to narrow the focus to riven human-and-pet families we feel compassion for, while widening it to take in the bewildering and often irrational world of animal-rescue societies, a study in infuriating legal fine points and the art of claiming ownership for a being that can’t speak for itself.

AFI Silver’s commendable event on Saturday involves a screening of the film at 5:45 p.m., followed by a benefit party and silent auction to help support sustainable rebuilding in New Orleans’ still-devastated Lower Ninth Ward. The party, sponsored by Jackie’s and Historic Green, gets started at 8 p.m. Plenty of time to tuck away the hankie.

» AFI Silver, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring; Sat. Feb. 27, 5:45 p.m.; 301-495-6700. (Silver Spring)

» Benefit party and auction, Jackie’s Restaurant, 8081 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 8-10 p.m., $5 suggested donation; $10 includes New Orleans-style buffet; 301-565-9700.

Photo courtesy Film Movement