REUNION: Pepper the Chi

HUGE thanks to volunteers Sara Ratekin, DVM and Susan Bongiorno. They worked together for weeks, following leads, collaborating information, digging up photos of possible matches, and sending those photos to Pepper'sowner, Tony Licciardi who has been fighting bone cancer. Pepper has been in a wonderful foster home in North Dakota with Darla Yliniemi who brought her back to N.D. with her after helping with rescue efforts in September. Sara first met Tony during one of her three trips to New Orleans and she promised him that she would help find Pepper for him.

In the photo above, Karen Thunshelle, shelter manager for the Souris Valley Humane Society, gets a kiss from Pepper. On Saturday, Thunshelle will fly with Pepper to Mississippi to reunite her with Tony.

December 8, 2005

By Jill Schramm, Staff Writer

Pepper is going home for Christmas.

The 6-year-old Chihuahua has only a few more days of Minot's sweater-weather left before hopping a plane to Mississippi to be reunited with an owner she hasn't seen since they were separated after Hurricane Katrina.

Karen Thunshelle, shelter manager for the Souris Valley Humane Society in Minot, said Pepper will be as glad to be back in warmer temperatures as she'll be to see her owner again. Thunshelle boards a flight to Mississippi with Pepper Saturday.

Darla Yliniemi, who has provided a foster home for Pepper, said Pepper gets along better with her dogs and cat than she does with the weather.

"She likes to wear her sweater," she said. "She doesn't like the cold but she's not afraid of my big dogs."

The Humane Society of the United States is funding the trip to bring Pepper back to her family, Tony and Shirley Licciardi, before Christmas.

"I can't wait to see her," said Tony Licciardi, who has bone cancer that he described as widespread. He said Pepper's return might help his physical health by relieving the distress he's felt since losing her.

"All I do is cry about her, cry for her," he sad. "I sure miss her."

Pepper came to North Dakota after Thunshelle befriended her while assisting with animal rescue in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina in September. The white and pale brown short-hair came to the rescue shelter dirty, hungry, carrying fleas and scared.

"She was a little nippy," Thunshelle said. "She actually just bonded with me. I was about one of the only people who could handle her down there. I just couldn't leave her down there."

Thunshelle arranged to bring Pepper to Minot.

Tony Licciardi said he became separated from Pepper and his two other dogs when police came to rescue him from his home flooded under seven feet of water. When the police went back for the dogs, they couldn't find them.

Licciardi said he spent a couple of days on a Navy boat and it was some time before he could search for his dogs.

"I have been all over looking for them, calling everybody," he said. The two missing dogs are a Chihuahua and Pomeranian.

Licciardi told an animal rescue worker in New Orleans about his dogs after returning to check on damage to his home there. The worker searched the hurricane registry through Pet Finder and located Pepper in Minot. Licciardi said he identified Pepper's Internet picture on the computer in a library.

"I said 'Yes, that's her!'" he said. "I have never seen another one her color with markings like she has."

Pepper, who had been known as Booboo at Souris Valley Humane Society until identified about three weeks ago, is recovering from the trauma of the hurricane.

"The first time the wind picked up, she paced half the night. She just couldn't settle down," Yliniemi said. "She's slowly adjusted to know the wind is not going to hurt her."

Thunshelle said the local humane society will miss Pepper, but they are pleased that Pepper's homecoming means Licciardi's losses to Hurricane Katrina will be one less.

"He doesn't have anything anymore, so we are glad we can make at least something good come out of this," she said.

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