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Pets abandoned during Katrina find new homes

Volunteers bring them to county

PROSPECT - Dozens of four-legged victims of Hurricane Katrina got a taste Sunday of Butler County hospitality.

A group of county volunteers returned from storm ravaged southern Louisiana with about 12 dogs and 20 cats from the Broken Down Dogs animal shelter in Alexandria, La. Sunday afternoon.

They met at the Big Butler Fairgrounds with veterinarians, other volunteers and adoptees who offered to open their homes to the displaced pets, victims saved from one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.

"All the animals we have will have homes," said Sue Varner of Franklin Township, one of the organizers of the effort.

Varner and five other volunteers left Butler on Thursday evening for the 1,000-mile trek. They arrived at the Alexandria shelter, which is about 200 miles north of New Orleans, on Friday evening after a 24-hour drive. They towed a horse trailer and a van full of donated supplies.

The rescuers from Butler are Varner, Kathy Wilderoter, a veterinarian from Saxony Animal Clinic in Sarver, Kim Sharp of Zelienople, Leslie Bachman of Lyndora, Jackie Carson of Zelienople and Bill Kamerer of Franklin Township.

Since their mission gained publicity last month, donations of money and supplies came in.

"The community just pulled together," Varner said. "It was wonderful."

"We took a whole trailer load of food with us," plus blankets and other supplies, Kamerer said. "We left most of it there."

More supplies were at the fairgrounds when they arrived.

There were more people willing to adopt the animals than there were pets, she said.

"We would have had more dogs, but some tested positive for heartworm" and couldn't be brought to Butler, Carson said.

Varner said adoptee families were chosen after reviewing their situations.

"We tried to match the animals to the most appropriate adoptees to make sure they got a good home," she said. "It went really well. They were all placed today."

Anyone who wanted to adopt a pet but didn't receive one could get another chance. Another rescue trip is planned.

"We're already working on it," Varner said.

Debbie Birosik of Seven Fields came to the fairgrounds seeking a dog to shelter until, hopefully, its rightful owner could be found. She said her family has a 4-year-old Labrador.

"He needs to have a friend to play with. Just another nice dog that would be compatible with our dog and children," she said.

Linda Hoesch said she has a cat and a dog and was willing to foster another pet.

"I came with the intention of taking a cat home," she said. "But I'm open to suggestion."

All of the cats were being taken to the Moraine Grove Veterinarian Clinic in Connoquenessing Township for further evaluation before being released, said Lori Love, a veterinarian and the clinic's owner.A group from Delaware, the Purr Fect Haven, traveled to Butler to take some of the cats. Others are being accepted by the Rainbow Animal Refuge, and the rest will go to foster homes.The homes are to be temporary, Varner said. Every attempt will be made to find the pets' owners.The animals all will be photographed and posted, along with information about where they were found, on the Web site where their owners can seek to find them. The adoptees have agreed to return the pets if their owners could be found.Varner said the areas of Louisiana the volunteers passed through were tragic."Things are so chaotic," she said. Some of the cats survived two weeks in flooded homes."Conditions are really bad," she said.She said there were about 60 animals at the shelter in Alexandria when they arrived."People were constantly dropping animals off," she said. "There are still thousands of dogs and cats out there.""It was kind of sad," Carson said. "I expected it to be overcrowded. There were a lot of frightened dogs. They're trying to bring in as many as they can. When you don't have the proper facilities, it's very hard."They were expecting pets to have computer chips with information imbedded in them, but that system apparently didn't totally materialize."Many did not get chips," Varner said."When we left, a truck from another shelter pulled in," Carson said. "They had dogs in crates with tags saying, (for example) 'Found in a home on Water Street,' or 'Tied to a front porch on such-and-such street.'Varner said the shelter is in a bad neighborhood. She said it was "impoverished and dangerous."She said across from the shelter, she heard someone shout, "I'm going to shoot you.""I heard gunshots and came back inside," she said.She said she saw a police officer and told him what she heard."He said, 'Why do you think I pulled my gun out,' she said. "He heard the gunshots too."On the return trip, Varner said, they were exhausted and tried to find a hotel."All the evacuees are in the hotels and motels," she said. "There was nowhere to stay."She said they slept in their vehicles at a truck stop."At least we got a shower," she said.Kamerer said they saw a lot of storm damage, especially the farther south they traveled."It was really bad," he said. "You see it on TV. It's worse when you see it in person."

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