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The link the the original article from June 28th is no longer active, so it is reprinted below.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.


UPDATE: sucky sucky people Part I

First, the article in Sunday's Pittsburgh's Post-Gazette

Second, from the burgh blog (reprinted here because it is so good)

Oh my God, you sucky sucky people named Ms. Fox and Voices for Animals, would you give the old, poor, having a shitty year and just wants to go home, man his dog back?!

“We are attempting settlement negotiations and I think there’s a good chance we will settle this amicably,” she said.

She declined to say whether Bandit was still in the Pittsburgh area.

Negotiations? “Declined to say”? Is this dog shitting diamonds or something?

I don’t care if the man is old, and I don’t care if he abandoned the dog … he had no choice. There aren’t many groups of people going through crappier times than those of the 9th Ward in New Orleans … just ask Woy.

If Bandit could talk, he’d probably tell you to kiss his furry ass, that he hates the Burgh weather, and to please put him on the first plane to Houston so he can see his best friend.

Give the man his dog back … and for good measure … ,you sucky sucky people.

I’m having weird Elian Gonzalez flashbacks suddenly. Where’s Janet Reno when you need her to storm in and take things that don’t belong to people?

Oh, and anyone attempting to keep Bandit from returning to his owner, you have dethroned Dom Costa as Annoying Burgher. Your crowns are in the mail … and by “crowns” I mean flaming bags of poo.


Two Lost Souls by Shelly Guidotti

"Did you hear that?" the old dog shouted. They all ran to the front of their kennel doors to see if someone was coming to "pick them."

"Sorry," he said to the other dogs as his ears fell down from their perked position. "I could have sworn I heard voices saying, 'Isn't he cute? Can't we take him home with us?'"

"You must have been dreaming again old man," said the dog in the cage next to him. "Anyway, what's the big deal about getting picked ? We've all been through that routine and look where it got us." The word "home" meant little to these shelter dogs.

"Just once, I'd like to feel the warmth of a hand stroking my head," said the old dog. "I'd like to be the one who kisses the tears off a sad face. I'd like to curl up next to a fire instead of this cold concrete. It hurts my bones." He curled up and sighed as the others said, "The only place you're going to find that is in your dreams old man."

* * *
Hank's wife had only been gone a year but the pain was as fresh as if time had stood still. He was an old man now, alone and longed for the comfort that he knew no other person would ever be able to give to him again. What would his life become without her by his side? Hank's cupboards were close to bare now and, although he didn't want to go out, he knew he should at least pick up the basics.

He drove slowly down the side streets for freeway driving had become too challenging. Suddenly, the car started chugging and sputtering until finally the engine quit altogether. One of the basic needs he forgot was fuel for the car! So he coasted over next to the curb, spotting a building within walking distance. Hopefully, they'd let him use their phone.

He walked into an office area and rang the bell for service but no one came. He spotted another door going outside, failing to notice the sign posted "Employees Only". As Hank walked out, he was overwhelmed by yaps, barks and insane jumping from dogs all sizes and shapes.

He then realized he had unintentionally gone to the dog shelter. Slowly he walked down the concrete aisle looking for an attendant.

Three kennels down on the right, the old dog calmly sat there. Why should the old dog get excited? No one would want him. But, he sensed a need and couldn't resist offering a kind look and a gentle wag of the tail. As Hank neared the old dog's cage, he laced his fingers through the chain link to steady his gait and the first feeling of comfort he'd remembered in over a year came from a wet nose and lick across his arthritic fingers.

Just then a voice of authority sounded, and Hank jumped. "I'm sorry sir, you aren't supposed to be in this area!" she said. Luckily Hank didn't know he had walked into the "final area" where unclaimed dogs were scheduled to be put down. There went the nudge and lick thing again. Hank looked down to the most pleading eyes he'd ever seen.

Ignoring the attendants order to leave, Hank asked if could he see the dog closer? Her demeanor changed completely and her sternness melted away. She had forced herself to be this way so she could do the part of her job she despised. She brought the old dog out and instantly the two souls -- once so lost -- found reason to hope.

Hank's cupboards were now filled, a warm fire crackled and the old dog smiled inside as he remembered "only in your dreams." Closing his eyes he felt Hank's hand stroking his head whispering "sleep in heavenly peace".