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Utah giving Katrina cats 2nd chance

Many of 30 refugee pets to be offered for adoption

SANDY — A black-and-white-striped cat poked its paw through a cage Tuesday evening, one of 30 refugee cats that had just arrived at the Mountain View Animal Hospital from a shelter in Picayune, Miss.

The cats were brought here by No More Homeless Pets in Utah after they were rescued from New Orleans-area animal shelters, which flooded and lost electricity during Hurricane Katrina.

Numerous rescuers, humane societies and animal-rights groups have travelled to the hurricane-ravaged states, combing flooded neighborhoods, muddy streets and abandoned homes for the house pets struggling to survive without their human companions. Pets are being taken to makeshift shelters, and many are being flown out of state, with high hopes of adoption.

Julie Castle, executive director of No More Homeless Pets, said the 30 cats brought to Sandy were from a small shelter in Picayune, a city of about 10,500 people located 50 miles from New Orleans. One woman is keeping the shelter running without electricity or running water and very few supplies as rescued pets continue to pour in, she said. She said those believed to have owners are kept in state for two weeks to give owners time to find them.

"We were exhausted, and we were only at the shelter for five hours," Castle said. "This woman is dealing with it every single day."

The cats were to be quarantined temporarily at Mountain View until the staff could examine them, said Dr. Tim Hassinger. Of particular concern were conditions such as fleas and heartworm, which are more common in the South than in Utah, though most of the cats appeared healthy.

"They're nice cats," Hassinger said. "I'm surprised they're in as good condition as they're in."

The cats that get a clean bill of health will be included at this weekend's Super Adoption, scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the PetsMart at 389 W. 1830 South.

Julie Castle expressed optimism about adopting out the cats, along with 28 dogs and 17 cats that arrived Monday. Those were mostly animals removed from Texas shelters to make room for pets displaced by the hurricane.

"I'm hoping that folks in Utah will open their hearts up to these animals," she said, adding she hopes the disaster will bring attention to the bigger issue of homeless animals.

She said foster homes are on the ready in case any of the hurricane pets aren't adopted.

Temma Martin, spokeswoman for Salt Lake County Animal Services, said it was good that the organization is bringing attention to pet adoption. But she pointed out that most animals at the Super Adoption would be from Utah and people should pick the pet that's right for them.

"The last thing that's going to help is if people specifically go there to get a hurricane dog, but it's not a good match," she said. "It will end up back in the shelter locally."

Last year, Martin said, 10,295 dogs and cats were brought to the county shelter. Of those, 79 percent of cats and 28 percent of dogs were euthanized. That rate is just for the Salt Lake County shelter.

Gregory Castle said he understands concerns about adding even more pets to an already overcrowded shelter system.

"There's a chronic situation where Utah shelters have to euthanize animals because there's not enough space," he said, noting that just under half the animals at Utah shelters are reunited with their owners or adopted — an improvement over the past few years.

Gene Baierschmidt, director of the Humane Society of Utah, said the society is also hoping to get about 20-30 dogs in the next couple of days through the Humane Society of the United States. The national society will be shipping about 200 dogs to Denver, said Baierschmidt.

"If someone's been thinking about getting a pet, this is a great opportunity to really save a life," he said. "We think there will be a lot of interest in those animals."

Last week, the Humane Society of Utah was designated by the American Red Cross as the official drop spot for supplies for needy animals belonging to Utah's Camp Williams refugees. However, the organization received so many supplies it is no longer asking people for donations.

For more information on the Humane Society's efforts, visit www.hsus.org. For more information on No More Homeless Pets, visit utahpets.blogs.com.


Contributing: Contributing: Amelia Nielson-Stowell, The Associated Press

E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com