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Dogs Help Writer in Disasters, Tragedy


Writer Ken Foster has formed bonds of friendship with dozens of stray dogs, and recounts his adventures in the new book "The Dogs Who Found Me." The animals have helped him get through personal tragedies and natural disasters.

On September 11, 2001, Ken Foster was living in New York City with his dog Brando. They would witness one of the most tragic events in the city's history. "He was with me in the park that morning as one of the first planes flew overhead really low. And we didn't know what was going on," he said.

Foster soon learned that the airplane, and another that followed, had been hijacked in a terrorist plot to destroy the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Two other hijacked planes were heading for Washington.

More than 2,700 people died in New York, including office workers, police officers, firefighters and airplane passengers. In the days that followed, the city came to grips with the horror of what had happened. The writer says his dog helped him cope with the disaster.

"He led me to the fire station down the street, where a lot of men had been lost. He made me go inside and look at the memorials to these men, and he kept taking me back there over and over again, as well as to some other memorials around the neighborhood - things that I would have walked by because I didn't want to be reminded of them. And yet, his forcing me to pay attention to it and deal with it, I think, is what helped me through that time," he said.

Today, Brando is one of three dogs in the writer's life. They live in New Orleans, where last year they were forced to cope with another disaster. Hurricane Katrina drove them from their home, equipped with only dog food, two bottles of wine and a change of clothes. Their house, located on high ground, survived the storm and the flooding, and after one month Foster returned with his trio of dogs.

"We came back in October. We were the only people on the street, and there were packs of stray dogs running around that still had their collars on from when they had been pets," he said.

Since then, he has helped animal rescue workers get dogs back to their owners or find them new homes.

Even before that disaster left thousands of pets on the street, Foster had encountered lost dogs in restaurants, bookstores and even in sewage drains. He says dogs have the uncanny knack of finding him.

"What happens with me is that I tend to wander outside or go to run an errand and at some point, there's a dog there. And frequently, they've come up to me and literally tapped me on the leg. I didn't know that they were even there until I felt something and looked down and saw a dog looking at me very expectantly," he said.

Most often, he takes the animals to a shelter, but doesn't just leave them there. He checks back on the lost dogs to monitor their progress and does what he can to help find them a home.

"(I) offer my support in whatever way I can, either by volunteering or circulating information that this dog is there. I think a lot of times, people want other people to do the job of solving, not just animal problems but problems in our communities in general. And the first thing people really need to do is to figure out what they can do to help as well," he said.

The writer says humans get as much satisfaction from their relationship with dogs as the animals get from people. He says dogs have helped him deal with the death of two close friends and cope with a heart condition that nearly killed him.

He says dogs are social animals, just as people are, and that is probably why they get along so well.

"I think that's why the relationship between dogs and men and women is so unique, is that they want to be part of a pack, and the pack can include people as well as other dogs," he said.

But dogs, says Ken Foster, have an advantage over people because dogs are intuitive. He says the dogs that have found him, in parks and animal shelters and at the side of highways, have helped him understand what it means to be human.