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Katrina Survivors Sue To Recover Rescued Pets

From the Austin American-Statesman:

Hope waits

Lawsuit over cocker spaniel underscores Katrina rescue problems.

By Eric Dexheimer
Sunday, September 03, 2006

(At right, Tiffany Madura with Hope, a cocker found in perilous health after Hurricane Katrina. But a New Orleans woman says the dog is her pet, Jazz, and has sued to get her back.)

Tiffany Madura keeps Hope inside. The chubby black cocker spaniel enthusiastically defends her oversized chew toy and flops onto a dog bed in the living room. But the two-acre fenced yard outside the Austin ranch-style house is off-limits for playtime. "I'm afraid someone might take her away," Madura says nervously.

That someone would be Shalanda Augillard, who is working as hard as she can to pry Hope from Madura. When the dog lived with her just outside of New Orleans, she claims, its name was Jazz. "There is not one ounce of doubt in my mind that this is the same dog," says Susan Philips, Augillard's lawyer.

Whether Hope is Jazz — or vice versa — is the pivot point of a lawsuit Augillard has filed demanding the return of the family pet she says disappeared in the chaotic days following Hurricane Katrina. Madura, who adopted Hope from an Austin organization that rescued the dog in the storm's aftermath, is fighting tooth and nail to keep the spaniel. Nearly a half-dozen lawyers are now involved. Medical records have been parsed; DNA samples have been analyzed.

While cleanup efforts continue in New Orleans a year after Katrina roared ashore, emotional debris from one part of the disaster lingers. Some two dozen lawsuits have been filed across the country claiming adoptive families are keeping dogs that rightfully belong back with their Louisiana owners. Four have been filed in Texas.

In one sense, the pet disputes are a simple reminder that, a year later, the animal rescue effort has been at best incomplete. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 animals were collected from the splintered and sodden remains of the most destructive natural disaster in U.S. history. Yet very few of those — 10 to 25 percent — have been reunited with their original Louisiana owners.

The lawsuits are also jarring because each of the parties at one time basked in national sympathy and admiration: the frazzled-yet-dignified residents of New Orleans; the selfless rescuers risking their lives for helpless animals; the compassionate foster families opening their homes to sick and injured pets. Now those stereotypes are fraying under closer scrutiny.

While the majority of volunteers who poured into New Orleans to save displaced animals were well-intentioned, the legal clashes illustrate that some did more harm than good. "They were just the same as looters," says Ceily Trog, who has run the animal shelter in hard-hit St. Bernard Parish for 18 years. "They came in and stole our property. We needed help. And instead we got a kick in the ass."

The tug of war over the pets has also scraped open a cultural sore spot. Many of the dogs that showed up at shelters had serious medical problems. In several of the lawsuits, adopters have asserted that the animals were so poorly cared for prior to the hurricane that sending them back would be tantamount to abuse. Because the original owners were largely inner-city African Americans, and the majority of rescuers were white suburbanites, a corrosive whiff of racism has tarnished some of the rescue narrative's heroic shine.

The disputes "generally involve the movement of dogs from poorer, black, less-educated owners to richer, whiter, more educated people who improperly claim to be the new owners," says Steve Wise, a Boston animal-rights lawyer involved in several of the lawsuits. "The argument that the dogs have been abused is, at its heart, an argument about class and racism." …

A meeting in mid-July at a vet’s office turned confrontational when Augillard and a lawyer showed up with a video camera and pursued Madura around the office. A recent DNA test concluded that dog hair Augillard says came from an old sweater matched that of Hope/Jazz. But Madura and her Austin lawyer, Michael Murray, contend the hair from the sweater was a plant — secretly brushed off Hope by Augillard during a recent visit — so the results should be tossed…

Everythingis racism, don't you know.

There is more information on personal injury lawyer turned animal rights attorney Steve Wise at Wikipedia:

Animal personhood

Wise’s position on animal rights is that some animals, particularly primates, meet the criteria of legal personhood and should therefore be awarded certain rights and protections…

But he’s not crazy. (No way.)

Hey, for once everybody has a dog in this fight.

This article was posted by Steve on Sunday, September 3rd, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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