One of the tragic realities of the past seven months is that while the work of coordinating animal rescue, delivery of food and other supplies to shelters and staging areas, and tracking down the rescued animals was being done by a small army of us working from our computers, the people who evacuated without their pets - the people that all this effort has been for - often did not have internet access for many weeks or months.
Many were in shelters for a long time, or with family who did not have a computer.
In the 2002 State New Economy Index, Louisiana ranked #49 and Mississippli ranked #50 in percentage of internet users. Even though the report is based on data from a few years pre-Katrina, and more households had internet access by last summer, that was also true in all the other states, so the overall ranking is probably the same.
This is important information - the two states that were devestated by Katrina have the lowest percentage of people who have and use computers. So when these people finally landed on dry ground and began to deal with the myriad of problems and issues, they did not necessarily run to the nearest computer to look for their pets. Many of them didn't even know that their pet was on the internet (it has never been a requirement of pet ownership to also own a computer).
Therefore, deciding not to return someone's pet because it had heartworms or was not spayed or neutered or because its fur was matted is nothing more than one person's MORALITY. It is not the law. The law is and will be on the side of the pet's legal owner; the person who was forced to evacuate without it.
So, a word of advise/warning to those still refusing to return pets to their rightful owners in New Orleans: several more lawsuits are being filed. The Chopper case in NJ was just the beginning, but a good precedent. If you are one of the many fosters, rescuers or shelters that has been asked to return a pet and you have refused, you may be the next to be sued. Or the one after that. And not only will you be ordered to return the pet (the judge will not care about heartworms or reproductive apparatus) but you will also be required to pay all legal fees and court costs. If you are a small rescue group, this will likely do you in. If you're an individual - one of those who decided to take home a 4-legged Katrina souvenir, court papers will be served at your place of employment. The lawsuit will result in as much local media coverage as possible. In the long run, it will be best for you to make arrangements to get the pet returned and go find yourself another kitty or dog. Preferably one that actually needs a new home.