Katrina pets should be returned to owners

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    Devastation rocked the lives of tens of thousands of people when Hurricane Katrina struck the United States one year ago this week. People lost their homes and loved ones and evacuated the lives they knew.Now, amidst the hope they have received from the selfless help of multiple volunteer groups, the evacuees still struggle to rebuild their former lifestyles.

    One little-known, but nonetheless painful, loss some Katrina victims are still coping with is that of some of their most well-loved, loyal companions: their pets.

    In the chaos of the approaching disaster, many New Orleanians frantically searched for shelter for themselves, their families and their pets. But, unfortunately, most were forced to leave their pets, which were primarily dogs, according to the Hartford Courant. Many temporary shelters did not house pets; others had no room for them. The owners weren’t given another option.

    Though rescuers took dramatic efforts and were successful in saving thousands of Hurricane Katrina victims’ pets, only a quarter of the animals have actually been reunited with their owners, according to WTOP, a Washington news radio station.

    The animals that the victims love have been dispersed to other families. Many of these families believed they were saving animals that were abandoned during the hurricane. But now, as evacuees continue to reconstruct their lives and seek to be reunited with their pets, those who adopted them are refusing to give the animals back.

    Some of the original pet owners are filing civil suits.

    “Gracie is just really sweet and she’s always happy,” said Rhonda Rineker, whose family adopted a German shepherd mix, formerly named Nila, according to a recent issue of People magazine. “It would break our hearts to have to give her up.”

    Imagine how Nila-Gracie’s original owners, Steve and Doreen Couture, must feel. They returned to their destroyed home, having lost all that they own, and are faced with the unnerving task of starting over from scratch. In addition to the inevitable distress and anguish they have dealt with, they are now also being denied the companionship of the faithful dog they have spent years loving.

    Giving up the dog to its previous and rightful owners may, indeed, be heartbreaking. But it is a heartbreak that can in no way compare to the one the Coutures, and countless other residents of New Orleans, have already endured.

    Unfortunately, the story of Nila-Gracie is just one of several custody battles currently ensuing over Katrina-affected pets and their conflicting sets of owners.

    Victor Marino, former owner of Max, a Jack Russell terrier, even offered his adopters, Tiffany and Jeremy Mansfield, a new dog. The Mansfields rejected Marino’s generosity, refusing to give Max, whom they renamed Joey, back to him.

    It is beyond my comprehension, how, despite the contributions of time, money and care so many have volunteered to the Katrina relief effort, others can selfishly suspend the torment and emotional strife those affected by Katrina must face. I’m sure the people who adopted the rescued pets were intending to perform acts of charity. Rescuing and caring for a lost animal is a noble deed. But keeping the animal from people who never wanted to give it up, people who have already experienced extreme calamity, is greedy, immature and inappropriate.

    There is no way that, in one year’s time, the adopters could have developed the same kind of love and affections for the pets that their original owners still have. In the aftermath of great destruction, the evacuees are still recovering emotionally. The love of a loyal pet is one of the most heartwarming and restoring remedies for life’s unexpected tragedies. The pets should be returned to those who love them and are still emotionally attached to them.

    “My dogs mean everything to me,” New Orleanian Russell DeRogers said to CBS News. “That’s all I got.”

    Opinion editor Jordan Cohen is a sophomore English major from Lewisville, N.C..