Another Katrina dog in PA wants to go home

The link the the original article from June 28th is no longer active, so it is reprinted below.
The link above is to one of the many other papers or websites that picked it up the next day.

Dogfight escalates over Katrina pet

A family from the New Orleans area wants its dog, Rocket, back. A Doylestown family says it’s going to keep him.

By Patrick Lester

The Intelligencer

A New Orleans dog left homeless and without his family after Hurricane Katrina last year is in the middle of a custody battle between the animal’s original owner and the Doylestown family that adopted him after the disaster.

Sheila Combs, a New Orleans woman who lost virtually everything she owned in the hurricane, said she wants nothing more than to have Rocket, her 10-year-old son’s chow-Finnish spitz mix, returned home.

Lynne Welsh, the Doylestown woman who took in the now 2-year-old dog from a local shelter last November and said she went to great lengths to find the dog’s owner last year, plans to keep Rocket and she’s hired an attorney to represent her. She claims she’s the target of a harassment campaign orchestrated by volunteers helping hurricane victims find their pets.

It’s the type of animal tug-of-war that’s being played out across the country as pet owners from the Gulf Coast try to relocate and recoup pets they lost during and after evacuations.

A number of cases have already ended up in courtrooms across the country, and this particular case appears headed to a judge as well.

Welsh said late last week that she was willing to return the dog to Combs as long as she was willing to come to this area to get him. Welsh made the decision after consulting with “The Dog Whisperer,’ an animal psychologist, and after two women working on behalf of Combs came to the area asking for a police escort to Welsh’s house. By the weekend, Welsh changed her mind and decided to keep Rocket.

Richard Elliott, Welsh’s attorney, said that Welsh and her husband, Joseph, feel that they are “legally and emotionally entitled” to the canine. He said Combs, whose first contact with Welsh was June 6, has “refused to have any kind of meaningful reunification with the dog that would not result in further trauma to this animal.

“This animal has spent the last eight or nine months, after a two-week period of serious suffering, in a new home with a new family. Being suddenly and without any kind of re-introduction (to Combs and her son) traveling on a plane in a baggage compartment … would certainly not do this animal any good.”

Combs said Welsh is “stonewalling and has been doing that from the beginning” and that she is willing to have someone pay a visit to Doylestown to retrieve the dog. She said it’s “unreasonable” for Welsh to expect her to fly to Pennsylvania considering that she is a single, working mother and that she’s in the midst of trying to rebuild her house in New Orleans.

“Emotionally, I’m so frustrated with this whole situation,” said Combs. “I don’t have a choice right now but to get an attorney. I will not give up. I am just as determined to get the dog back (as Welsh is to keep it).”

Welsh’s attorney said his client believes she is doing what’s best for Rocket.

“I think (Welsh) recognizes that taking such a position may be somewhat controversial in the eyes of some of your readership,” Elliott said. “But given what I have learned about the whole situation, I think her position is perfectly appropriate.”

In New Jersey, a judge earlier this year ruled that a Louisiana family that lost its dog after the hurricane — not the New Jersey family that adopted the animal — should keep the dog. An 86-year-old hurricane victim recently filed a lawsuit in an attempt to get his poodle back from a woman in the Pittsburgh area, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A similar lawsuit is expected to be filed in Montgomery County Court this week on behalf of another hurricane victim trying to get his dog back.

The ongoing animal searches and legal battles have spawned the creation of a number of volunteer groups helping hurricane victims find their animals.

Last week, it appeared Rocket — the Welshes renamed him Rusty — was headed back to New Orleans for a reunion. Welsh last week said she decided to return the dog after consulting with the person she said is the authority on dogs — Cesar Millan, better known as “The Dog Whisperer,” who has his own cable television show. Welsh said she spoke to one of Millan’s assistants.

“The Dog Whisperer is a world expert on dog behavior and feelings,” Welsh said last week. “I wasn’t sure what to do. The dog was with us for so long. (The Dog Whisperer) said the dog should go back and would not be re-traumatized. My hope is that other families who have adopted pets (from hurricane-ravaged areas) give them back.”

Welsh, who this week referred questions to her attorney, contacted the Dog Whisperer after women from Delaware and California paid a visit to Bucks County looking for the dog. Two weeks ago, Anita Wollison and Laura Bergerol of California visited the borough’s police station asking for a police escort to Welsh’s home. Police Chief James Donnelly said his officers didn’t get involved because it’s a civil matter. “There are two sides,” Donnelly said. “We’re not going to decide which is right.”

Wollison, a Delaware woman and member of a network of people across the country helping Katrina victims find their lost pets, called Welsh’s decision to keep the dog “ridiculous.”

Elliott said his client made “heroic efforts” to contact Rocket’s owner once she brought the dog home, calling the phone number on his dog tag, sending letters and putting information about Rocket on Internet sites.

Combs said she didn’t have access to e-mail nor her home phone, having moved temporarily to Baton Rouge while trying to rebuild her New Orleans home. “For someone who has lost everything … I was trying to make sure we had stable housing and have our immediate needs met.”

Wollison said Rocket was picked up with thousands of other animals after the hurricane. Rocket was first sent a few hours from New Orleans to a shelter set up by the Humane Society of the United States after the hurricane. From there, he was taken by plane to this area by the American Boarding and Kennel Association. Rocket was likely flown to Philadelphia Airport and taken to a Lansdale kennel before being delivered to a shelter in Doylestown. The Welshes brought Rocket home on the day before Thanksgiving last year.

Wollison, who after seeing television images of dogs left behind with their families after the hurricane decided to help families find their pets, said she’s worked on hundreds of similar cases since the hurricane.

“Many of them for the longest time did not have Internet access,” said Wollison, whose group is called No Animal Left Behind. “Many people didn’t know petfinder.com (an Internet pet searching tool) existed. … One of the biggest obstacles we’ve been fighting is complete ignorance of why so many of these animals were left behind.”

Patrick Lester can be reached at (215) 345-3079 or plester@phillyBurbs.com.


Anonymous said...

Give the damn dog back!

Anonymous said...

what happened? how come you removed the other nasty posting about Lynne Welsh. you know, the links to the sites where they call her "dumbass" and "asshole"? get a call from your lawyer anita? afraid of getting your own ass sued maybe?
rest assured, that posting has already been saved

oh and i have no doubt this comment will not be posted

have fun vilifying more people

Anita said...

Dear anonymous, this post was not removed; it was temporarily being saved as a draft while I uploaded the photo.

Since you used a double negative ("i have no doubt this comment will not be posted") I assume you meant to say that I would gladly post your comment?

Blackcat said...

Dont you love "anonymous" postings? Anonymous, youre a dumbass, and an assshole and a passive aggressive defensive bore.
Howzzat dumbass? Would that be a triple negative?
( charm school taught me this.. so sue me )

What kind of freak posts about not posting postings (!) that could be misconstrued as a litigation matter? And then..posts "anonymously?"
And THEN...doubles back on herself and screws her own post re' give the damn dog back"?
AND THEN... accuses Anita of doing the "villifying"..hmmm... me thinks you doth protest too much.......LYNN

kemmich said...

as a louisiana native and dog lover who moved away (painfully, and partially b/c of weather fears), i feel both sides of the dilemma concerning adoptive versus "natural" parents. i ached to find a "katrina dog" when a slew of them found themselves at various humane societies here in colorado. i ended up adopting a "non-katrina dog", which gave me the satisfaction of knowing that i freed up a kennel for a "katrina dog" to be adopted by someone else. adopting an exiled dog: it's a great way for a pet lover to feel as if he or she is truly making a contribution, and yet enhancing the family in a way in which it surely will benefit.

i've been APPALLED to hear stories in which people have been unwilling to give up dogs they have "adopted", claiming that the pet was abandoned and they OWED nothing to people who, in many cases, now OWNED nothing. some played holier than thou: "You don't have the resources to care for this dog"; some "You left your home without your dog; you don't deserve that dog". These people have no concept of the forces that faced these people: the gravity of the situation was presented by the resources that protect us INSANELY late, and there were no evacuation procedures in place for animals. People were told, in essence: "We will save your life and not that of your animal, so come with us or we will leave you to die."

as a RABID (sorry) pet lover, and a bleeding heart, i'm amazed by the fact that the decision that people made to save their own lives: to continue to be mothers and fathers and grandparents and taxpayers and employees and volunteers and members of congregations...and so on...could not be received by a massively respected "how could you do anything else?". the fact that animals survived is a result of an amazing rescue mission that has continued, most aggressively, and has been highly supported nationally.

so. now. You are faced with the oppportunity to adopt an "orphaned" pet. fortunately, in my community, the animals that were offered for adoption were provided with a caveat: if the owner presents him/herself, the adoptive parents must relinquish the animal. if you are not willing to do this, we have weeded you out as someone who wanted to do good, versus someone who wanted to say "look how generous i am, i 'saved' a katrina dog." don't get me wrong: i do think there was fine intent on behalf of the folks who took on these dogs, and i DO believe they fell in love to one degree or another, but looking back, the issue is: if you want to be gracious, isnt' it more reasonable to provide dollars or time to care for these animals for 6-9 months while we hope to reunite them with their families? they've suffered enough!

For those who may say: "but these people have nowhere to go, they have no income, i'd be more capable of caring for this animal..." - that is NOT a true lover of pets. these animals are most certainly connected to those they lived with and are truly ROBBED when they cannot be reunited. does any animal lover really think a dog that lives in a one bedroom apartment from which the family may be evicted as opposed to a three bedroom home in which he used to live - knows and feels the difference? of course not...they know the love, the family, and the comfort, they are accustomed to. assuming you firmly believe that you can provide a better life: ALERT: humans have a right, and you have a responsibility TO that human, to help them find some semblance of normalcy, regardless of your belief. certainly, however, if you have reason to believe the dog will be mistreated in any form or fashion, do your part to find a basis for your belief and have the proper authorities address the situation.

there is no way for me to explain to these people that, while i appreciate that their intent is good for the orphaned animals, let's temper that with an appreciation for the human beings who have suffered enough. and for those who say "you lived in louisiana, you always knew it was a risk"...i'm finding more and more that those are the people who subscribe to the philosophy of the current political administration, which said "we had no reason to think the levees would fail."

pick a side.

don't make the innocent victims, human nor animals suffer.


"Children and dogs are as necessary to the welfare of the country as Wall Street and the railroads." - Harry S Truman