Video: Katrina pets, most lost forever

By Martin Savidge Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/2/2005 7:41:08 PM ET 2005-12-03T00:41:08

Dakota the dog is finally back in New Orleans. It's another tearful reunion. It's also extremely rare.

Despite efforts by hundreds of volunteers, unprecedented cooperation by animal groups, millions of donated dollars and wide use of the Internet, the reunion rate of owner and pet separated by Katrina is less than 15 percent.

"We felt sure as in many other times we'd be back in a day or two days at the most," says Andrew Smith.

When Andrew and Glenda Smith fled New Orleans in a packed car there was no room for their dogs.

"We left food upstairs and downstairs," he says.

Instead, Max and Zach were rescued and taken to the Lamar Dixon animal shelter. The Smiths found Zach in a cage, but no trace of little Max.

"I probably spend about two to three hours a day, sometimes more, on the Internet and on the phones searching," says Glenda.

The biggest breakdown was organization after pets were saved. Many well-meaning volunteers had no clue what to do. Paperwork got lost, and information was never entered into computers.

"Animals were marked, but there were definitely some that were not," says Laura Maloney, the executive director of the Louisiana SPCA.

Internet postings had bad photos or no photos. Another problem — people who've adopted Katrina pets are now refusing to give them back.

"We just dealt with a rescue who literally held an animal for eight weeks and allegedly forced a payment to get that animal back," says Eric Rice, who runs the Web site EricsDogblog.com.

"There are thousands of pets that aren't going to find their mama again," says Betsy Saul with Petfinder.com

For now, Zach sleeps by the empty bed of his buddy — and a family's heart is broken.

"But I'm not going to give up," says Glenda Smith. "I refuse to."

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