Saturday, January 21, 2006
By Matt Vande Bunte
The Grand Rapids Press
LAKE ODESSA -- Of the 26 dogs Mackenzie's Animal Sanctuary rescued in September in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, none had been reconnected with their owners.
Until this week.
An e-mail came in Tuesday to the shelter from an Atlanta volunteer trying to track down a missing dog named Rueben. The description seemed to match the breed, size, color, age and mild manners of a retriever mix staff had come to know as "Hooch."
The key piece of evidence provided by the K-9 sleuth: a missing canine tooth. Just like Hooch.
Back to Deborah Smith-Callahan went a digital reply that the dog owned by former New Orleans resident Jordana Smith was found.
"Jordana was crying. (Deborah) was crying. My office staff was crying," said Mackenzie's General Manager Erik Bauer said. "It was happy days around here.
"It was a huge undertaking (to shelter the Katrina dogs). This makes it worthwhile."
Running short of food for her 11-month-old daughter, Jordana Smith and her husband were forced to evacuate their rented New Orleans residence a few days after the hurricane. They left their two dogs behind with a bathtub full of water. When they returned, the dogs were gone.
The younger female was located by Smith-Callahan, a volunteer for the American Humane Association. But the whereabouts of Rueben -- who was picked up from a holding area for rescued dogs in Mississippi and transported to Mackenzie's -- remained unknown to his owner.
"It's been a horrible needle-in-a-haystack search," said Jordana Smith, whose family relocated to Austin, Texas. "He's like a family member. It's been hard having him gone."
Smith-Callahan, who is no relation to and has never met the dogs' owner, adopted the female pet because Smith's new landlord permits only one dog. She started sending e-mails and fliers to shelters nationwide in search of 9-year-old Rueben.
"Months went by, and it was very discouraging," Smith-Callahan said. "We had a couple false alarms where we'd see pictures that looked like him. It just seemed like Rueben would not be found."
Then, a contact saw Hooch on Mackenzie's Web site and suggested Smith-Callahan take a look. The e-mail confirmation that Hooch was Rueben was emotional.
"There are no words to tell you how wonderful I felt," Smith-Callahan said. "I felt like I won the lottery."
Mackenzie's is raising money to help reunite Rueben with his owner. Bauer said a shelter supporter offered to fly in the family Wednesday for a Thursday reunion at Mackenzie's. Donations are needed to cover part of the cost.
"I know he's going to be returned to me one way or the other," said Smith, who turned 27 on Friday. "I know he's in good hands, and I'm going to see him soon."©2006 Grand Rapids Press
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