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Bill Maps a Pet Evacuation Route

Rescued animals are put up for adoption as a Louisiana legislator works to keep owners and their pets together in any future emergency.

March 26, 2006|Ann M. Simmons | Times Staff Writer

SLIDELL, La. — As the Pontchartrain Humane Society was working Saturday to match rescued pets with new owners at its first Pet Adoption Day since Hurricane Katrina, a Louisiana state senator was preparing to introduce legislation he hoped would prevent widespread separation of owners and pets during any future emergency.

Thousands of pets were rescued in the wreckage of abandoned houses or found wandering the streets of Louisiana and Mississippi towns after the storm.

In some cases, owners were forced to leave their pets behind because rescue teams were obliged to concentrate on saving human lives; and shelters where evacuees were taken would rarely accommodate animals.

"I felt we were derelict in our duties to the citizens of Louisiana, because we didn't make arrangements for pets," said state Sen. Heulette "Clo" Fontenot, who planned to formally introduce legislation Monday that would ensure that an emergency evacuation plan specifically for pets is put into place.

"I don't think we recognize that pet-human bond that was there, and a lot of people refused to evacuate because they weren't going to leave their pets behind," Fontenot said.

Seven months after the storm, scores of humane society and animal rights advocates from across the country are still trying to help reunite pets with their owners.

Of the estimated 16,000 animals rescued in Louisiana since Katrina, about 3,000 have been reunited with their owners, said Laura K. Maloney, executive director of the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Most of the rescued animals have been taken in by shelters around the country.

The low reunification numbers of pets and owners has not deterred animal protection groups from continuing to search for abandoned and lost Katrina pets, Maloney said. "We've on the streets every day, and have been since the Wednesday following the storm." Katrina hit on Monday, Aug. 29.

"There really is no end," said Charlotte Bass Lilly, executive director of Animal Rescue New Orleans.

In January alone, her group rescued 1,000 animals, thought to be Katrina survivors because of the areas in which they were found. The group has set up 4,000 animal food and water stations in areas that were devastated.

Placing the pets up for adoption has seemed the most humane solution, said Maloney of the LA/SPCA. She added that the group hoped the new owners would be willing to relinquish their pets if the original owner were found.

The Pontchartrain Humane Society put 19 dogs and four cats up for adoption on Saturday at a pet center in Slidell, about 35 miles northeast of New Orleans. The goal was to find a secure new home for the often traumatized pets.

"We want to find a good match, not just for the animal, but for the owner," said Sam Bailey, society president.

Among the matches made Saturday was between Christian Laciura, 16, and a fluffy gray Catahoula puppy with black spots. "That one's mine, that one's mine," yelled Laciura, as he scooped the puppy from a pen -- and immediately named him Spitfire.

Both had been displaced by the hurricane. The dog had been rescued from a dilapidated house 15 miles across the state line in Mississippi; Laciura and his family lost their home and are living temporarily in a trailer in a nearby town.

For 7-year-old Alex Ramirez Jr., the match was with Linus, a 2-month-old light-brown golden retriever. The boy's father said the dog was a gift to his son, because he was recovering from an illness and scored all A's on his report card.

The new owners paid $80 to take the animals home. The fee included a rabies vaccination, a neutering certificate, a multicolored collar and a bright red leash.

Jan Perronne and her son Adam, 11, couldn't believe their luck, when they happened upon the pet adoption event while out shopping Saturday.

"We've been searching for a kitten since after the storm, and we just couldn't find one," said Perronne.

And then they spotted Oreo, a tiny black kitten with white paws. Adam clutched the animal to his chest -- and smiled ear to ear.

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