A year later, many owners diligently continue to search for their pets. In some cases, the animal was found, but the newly adoptive family refused to relinquish the dog or cat they had grown to love. Often, the person who rescued the animal from the devastated area led the adoptive family to believe that the pet was deliberately abandoned by the original owner. Though that might have been true in some cases, it seems that anyone still searching for their animal more than a year after being separated would likely have done what they could to save their pets under horrible circumstances.
Stealth Volunteers, an Internet-based organization whose members are renowned “reunion specialists,” has played an important role in locating pets and owners, and helping them find each other. When I first spoke to Stealth Volunteer Cindi Nicotera in August 2006, she and fellow Stealther Sandra Bauer were eagerly awaiting news that after a year apart, 86-year-old Malvin Cavalier of New Orleans and his 12-year-old Poodle mix, Bandit, would be together again.
Cavalier had stayed for the storm, but as waters rose, he knew he needed to get to higher ground. Planning to return for Bandit, he left food and water, wedged the door open so the dog could go on the porch, and waded to the Superdome. Animal rescuers saved Bandit, and members of another group, Voices for Animals, transported him to Pennsylvania. But Cavalier, who ended up at the Houston Astrodome, didn’t even know where to start looking for his best friend. That’s where Nicotera and Bauer came in. (If you’d like to read more about Cavalier and Bandit’s saga, please go to a blog created by Bauer.)
“Malvin was married for 54 years and his wife passed away four years ago,” says Nicotera. “They had the dog together. He lost his wife and then it was just him and Bandit. You know what that bond is like. It’s one of those things that’s hard to explain. His dog has been his life for a really long time. He loves this dog, the dog loves him. Bandit had appropriate identification as Malvin’s dog. That should’ve been reason enough to return him. I do in all sincerity feel very badly for the people who adopted the dog, because they adopted [him] with terrible misinformation. That is the biggest problem with rescue and return.”
Duane Greilich and Lisa Fox thought they were doing a good thing. The husband and wife, who live near Pittsburgh, often foster dogs for Animal Friends, a local no-kill shelter. In late September 2005, they received a call asking if they would temporarily take in a Katrina dog. The couple, who have two dogs of their own, were happy to help, and agreed to foster Bandit. About one month later, they were told that Cavalier, the owner, did not want Bandit back. Fox’s boss offered to informally adopt him, and in December 2005, Bandit went to his new home.
Says Greilich, “When we got him, he looked bad. He had skin disease, but that could’ve been from the water. He had really bad fleas, but that could’ve come from being around other pets. So I guess [the initial rescuer], when he picked up Bandit, thought he was abandoned, that it was animal cruelty, and he got the ball rolling that Malvin didn’t want the dog back.”
Bandit was also intact. As a rule, Animal Friends spays or neuters all animals who enter their system. Unfortunately, the fact that many Katrina animals were not spayed or neutered was often pointed to as “proof” that these pets were neglected and that they should not be returned.