Dog lost after Katrina finds happy ending |

Dog lost after Katrina finds happy ending

Susie Vasquez

GARDNERVILLE – Debbie Ross was hoping to adopt a big black dog she named John Coffey, orphaned in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Those plans were canceled when his owner claimed him. It’s a bittersweet moment for the Gardnerville woman, who bonded with the dog while volunteering at a temporary shelter for these animals in Monroe, La.

Ross knows this is good news, but her voice quavered as she explained the situation. The dog, which required a special-sized crate because of his bulk, was scheduled to arrive in Nevada from a North Carolina holding facility Monday.

“The owner is in the military, based in New Orleans,” Ross said. “During the hurricane, her dogs got loose.”

Ownership was confirmed through paperwork and the woman lost two other dogs in the disaster, Ross said.

“She calls him Romeo and she sounds like a nice lady,” she said. “I’ll be making contact with her.”

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Like so many other dogs supervised by United Animal Nations Emergency Animal Rescue Service, the dog was to be held in foster care until Dec. 31, to give owners time to reclaim their pets.

The Monroe shelter closed weeks ago and the animals were scattered across the country. After Ross completed her week volunteering in Monroe, John Coffey was trucked to the North Carolina facility.

“He’s a great dog. He was absolutely worth it,” Ross said.

Many pets stranded

The dog was one of more than 250,000 pets, from cats and dogs to parrots and fish, left stranded following the storm’s destruction, according to Public Broadcast.

Once the storm clouds lifted, volunteers came from around the country to launch one of the largest animal rescue efforts ever attempted.

Rescuers waded through floodwaters, used crowbars to pry open shuttered homes and struggled to capture the sick and scared pets cowering on rooftops and paddling through water full of dangerous bacteria.

Overall, rescuers saved more than 15,000 animals in just a few weeks, according to a report by the Public Broadcast Service.

Many animals received chemical burns from the pollutants released during the flooding, Ross said.

Volunteering at the Monroe facility was back breaking work, but it was also very rewarding, she said.

“The people and dogs became like family,” she said. “It was heartbreaking, but it was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Thousands of orphaned animals have been reunited with their owners and others are staying at foster homes.

Learning from experience

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., a veterinarian, traveled to Louisiana following the disaster, where he recommended putting one person in charge of the animal relief effort. Two were assigned to cover the region following that recommendation, said Ensign spokesman Jack Finn. “It didn’t go as smoothly or effectively as we would have liked, but we’re hopeful that we learned from the experience,” he said. “Hopefully, someone will be assigned to handle and coordinate animal rescue in the future.”

Anyone wishing to find out more or help with this effort can access numerous Web sites, including, or the Humane Society of the United States at