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A Year After the Deluge, Many Pets, Owners Still Apart


It's almost a year to the day since the killer hurricane Katrina howled into New Orleans, surrounding Louisiana communities, and cities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. No one is yet certain how many people died - more than 2,000 by most counts - but the literal and emotional disintegration of communities and lives is a story that's still being written. And some of the most poignant accounts involve the animals that these people cherished.

Some say hundreds of people drowned in the deluge because they would not abandon their pets. Rescuers who broke into houses found dead and starving cats and dogs and birds -- not to mention wild rats and water moccasin snakes. Most of the New Orleans Aquarium's 10,000 fish died when power failed and the staff fled the rising floodwaters. Pets at kennels and veterinarians' offices were released to their fates, or drowned in their cages. All told, according to the Humane Society of the United States, 25,000 animals perished in the storm.

For their owners, and for thousands of people who were torn from their pets, never to see them again, the pain endures. Posting photographs on the Internet, volunteers did their best to reunite rescued pets with hurricane refugees, who had scattered far and wide.

Many rescued animals traveled far as well, and were quickly adopted. This brought still more grief -- and quite a few lawsuits -- as evacuees sue to regain custody of their pets. Passions run high -- as they sometimes do in conflicts between the birth and adoptive parents of human children.

And all along the Gulf Coast, and on the Internet, searches for friends -- friends named "Whiskers" and "Fluffy" and "Little Bird" -- go on a full year after the terrible storm.

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