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In Katrina’s Wake

By: Cindy Marbut

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I was just a pup when I came to live with Bobby and his family. He had a big family with lots of noisy activity, but it was happy noise, you could almost always hear laughter. There seemed to be lots of love in Bobby's family, which is probably why they let me stay, despite my rather scruffy appearance.

"Just what we need around here" Bobby's mother had gruffly said, "another mouth to feed!" But the pup could see the twinkle in her eye.

"Don't worry about that, momma, I can feed him." Bobby didn't know how he would feed the pup, but somehow he would find a way to keep him without bringing more worry to his mother. The little guy wasn't much to look at, but the way he looked at Bobby with those big brown eyes, Bobby knew this would be his friend for life.

Bobby and the pup became the best of friends as they played and explored. Treasure hunting was one of their favorite games, searching out the best stick for playing fetch. On very hot days the two could be found in the shade of a tree up on the levee watching the big ships coming up the river. And there was always fishing, the pup's favorite activity not only because it made Bobby happy, but also because the pup usually got a good meal. Even when Bobby only caught enough to give him the heads, that was better than picking through the neighborhood garbage cans for dinner.

The rain storms were always a little bit frightening, but when the wind came with it everyone got quiet and worried. And when the levee broke, their world turned upside down. Bobby's family didn't have a car, and their house would soon be under water. They had to leave, they didn't know where they would go or how they would get there, they just had to go. Finally, there was help; busses were taking people out of the flooded ruins of the city. Bobby and his family would be OK; they would get on the bus and go somewhere safer. But when they went to get on the bus, a policeman pulled the pup from Bobby's arms. Dogs were not allowed on the busses, only people. That was the last time the pup would see his best friend Bobby.

The days that followed were dark and scary, and filled with unimaginable dangers the pup had never known. Between nearly drowning four different times and having nothing to eat and trying to stay out of the way of the bigger dogs, the pup was exhausted, starved, and heartbroken by the time a kind volunteer found him and took him to a shelter. Finally he had real food and a dry, warm place to sleep (even if he did have to share a very small space with two other dogs.) At least they were both as small as he was so he didn't have to worry about becoming lunch.

The pup wasn't sure how long he spent in the shelter, without Bobby time seemed to become unimportant. But one day he was taken from his kennel by some strangers that put him in their car and drove him to a house. It was a big, quiet house with not very many people. But the pup had his own bed and his very own dinner dish and all the food he could possibly eat. He even got a bath and some special medicine that made those nasty biting fleas go away and quit bothering him.

The pup wondered if Bobby would come here too, or maybe he was already here and he just had to find him. So, the pup explored the house and the big back yard, looking everywhere he could think of to find his friend. He even asked these kind people, who had brought him to this quiet place. But they didn't understand his looks, they just thought he was being sweet and cute, and trying to say thank-you for all they had done for him. And he did appreciate what they had done. It was nice to be warm and dry. He had never known how wonderful it was to live without fleas and to be able to eat whenever he was hungry. But where was Bobby? They hadn't gone fishing is such a long, long time.

Bobby and his best friend would never be reunited. Not because Bobby didn't want him back, but because the pup's new family didn't want to give him up. They felt that Bobby and his family had not properly cared for the pup because they couldn't afford to buy him dog food and take him to the veterinarian. While no one would argue that providing adequate nutrition and preventive medical care to a dog is best for the dog, what about those intangible benefits to a child that come from having a best friend like the pup? Especially a poor child like Bobby who is able to step outside is own misery and desperate situation to do what he can to take care of a special friend.

In the wake of Katrina's devastation of New Orleans, the majority of the dogs left behind belonged to the city's poor population. People who did not own a car and who were dependent upon the public transportation provided to evacuate the city. And these people were not given a choice, they had to evacuate and they were not allowed to take their pets onto the busses. This has created the sticky legal question of who is the rightful owner now, the original owner or the adoptive owner. Since pets are legally considered personal property, the issue is whether they were lost or abandoned. Lost property is returned to the original owner, abandoned property is not. While these legal questions have become very difficult to answer, the human questions are even more difficult to answer. Questions like who deserves to have the dog? Should the court consider the owner's financial ability to care for the dog? Should the emotional impact of having lost everything to Katrina be part of the equation?

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