Rescuing hurricane pets no small task | PostIndependent.com
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Rescuing hurricane pets no small task

Special to the Post Independent/Erin M. CadyDeputy Evan Mead, with the Garfield County Sheriffs Department, talks with Teresa Fish outside of Colorado Animal Rescue Wednesday morning about their options concerning a hurricane dog, Buster, who was being turned over to authorities.
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After Hurricane Katrina hit, Buster wandered aimlessly in the Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans. Earlier this month the dog was rescued, then brought back to Colorado by Sue Schmidt, of Silt, who cared for him at her home. Now Buster is at the center of a tug-of-war between Schmidt and Colorado Animal Rescue in Glenwood Springs.Buster’s plight also points out that saving tens of thousands of pets from a natural disaster is uncharted territory for both the rescuers and animal shelters across the country, who are working to reunite them with their owners. If owners aren’t located, the mission turns to trying to get good homes to adopt the animals.In Buster’s case, and undoubtedly for many like him, his fate is uncertain.Wednesday morning, Schmidt, who is an animal trainer and also sits on the CARE board of directors, turned Buster over to the Garfield County Deputy Sheriff Evan Mead because the dog bit CARE director Leslie Rockey on Friday, Oct. 21.Mead, following county regulation, turned Buster over to CARE for a 10-day quarantine, during which time he’ll be observed for rabies.Because of the bite, Schmidt believes the dog has been branded as aggressive and non-adoptable and will be put to death. However, CARE sees the situation in another way.”I promised her we would do everything possible not to euthanize the dog,” said Nancy Genova, who is a member of the CARE board.CARE has clear-cut policy for adopting dogs, including temperament testing and a medical examination. It also developed a clear-cut policy for rescued Katrina dogs, which includes a provision for aggressive dogs: “Any dog that has a bite history, once owned by CARE, no matter the circumstances, cannot and will not be placed in a home.”Schmidt said she brought 10 dogs back with her to Colorado. All had been on the streets for some time, without food and human care, following the hurricane.”You have to understand that when you’re handling these animals, they might exhibit bite issues because of all the trauma and stress (they’ve been through),” Schmidt said. With proper care most can recover, she said.After Schmidt returned to Colorado, the week of Oct. 10, she began negotiations with Rockey about turning over the dogs to the shelter for foster care and eventual adoption if their owners are not found.Schmidt said rescuers were not allowed to take dogs from Louisiana unless the rescuer was associated with a “brick and mortar” shelter. The Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals oversaw the rescue and disposition of the animals affected by the hurricane.According to Genova, CARE was willing to take in seven dogs. When Schmidt returned with 10, the shelter made room for eight dogs. Most of the dogs were flown to Colorado, with Schmidt picking up the $1,700 tab. She drove Buster and another dog to Colorado because they were too big for standard airline crates and were also “crate aggressive,” she said.As of last week all but Buster and two other dogs were in the CARE shelter.Last Friday, Rockey came to Schmidt’s home to take blood from Buster and another dog to test them for heartworm. When Rockey approached Buster, he bit her on the inner thigh, leaving five puncture wounds, Genova said.Schmidt is unhappy with CARE’s policy of testing the dogs for temperament to determine if they can be adopted out if the owners are not found. In the case of Buster, Schmidt said she would have given him more time to settle in before subjecting him to an examination.”Some of these dogs had been starving for four weeks and they’re not going to be food aggressive?” she said. Once a dog is labeled aggressive and not adoptable, “that means euthanasia,” she added.Over the weekend Schmidt said she started thinking about the incident. “If put him in quarantine (at CARE) and the owner doesn’t come forward, (Buster) will be euthanized and that isn’t right.” She said an animal shelter in Weld County was willing to accept Buster. She also asked CARE to agree to mediation over the quarantine issue and hoped she’d be allowed to quarantine Buster at her home. But CARE did not agree. Monday, Deputy Mead called her and told her to bring the dog in to CARE or he would come to her home and take the dog into custody, she said.”Once (they) get him into the system I have no control over him and that’s why I was fighting for this guy,” she said.Rockey said she and animal behaviorist Tracy Yajko are working on finding a shelter for Buster. “At this point no decision has been made … We’re trying to work on a solution.”Yajko explained CARE’s mission. “We want to place healthy, safe animals in homes. There are sanctuaries (that will take aggressive dogs).””Our goal is to adopt out happy, healthy, safe dogs into our community,” Rockey added.So far, two owners of the dogs rescued from the hurricane at the CARE animal shelter have been found, Rocky said. Three other dogs are now in foster care. The dogs cannot be adopted out until mid-December, giving owners a chance to reunite with their pets, she said. All dogs rescued after Katrina have had their pictures posted on petfinder.com. There are currently about 10,000 dogs on the site who have lost their owners, she said.”There is a positive side, too,” she said.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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