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Last Updated: Friday, 30 September 2005, 01:48 GMT 02:48 UK
Pet detective hits New Orleans
By Verity Murphy
BBC News, New Orleans

Susan Klages holding rescued cat
Susan has been rounding up pets in the flood-hit St Bernard's Parish
On an ordinary day Susan Klages is a police officer in the state of Oregon, but these are far from ordinary days and right now Susan is a pet detective.

Along with other volunteers from America's Humane Society, she is searching the streets of some of New Orleans' most damaged neighbourhoods looking for the many pets and animals abandoned in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

"For the people who have lost everything getting back the pet they thought was lost is such a joy, you can't even imagine how happy those people are when their animals are returned," Susan said.

The Humane Society has more than 300 people out on the roads and floodwaters of Louisiana and Mississippi joining in the hunt.

Packed into their vehicles are water, pet food and feeding bowls, along with cages for both cats and dogs.

"These animals are often very frightened and very hard to catch, so we try to use the food to lure them in," Susan explained. "That works pretty often as they haven't been fed for weeks now."

Pet assessment

In fact, although it is early morning in St Bernard's Parish, Susan and her partner Beryl Bard, from Minnesota, have already managed to bag the first animal of the day.

Sitting in a cat box on the back seat is a pale blonde cat, with blue eyes.

Map detailing missing animals
The rescuers are provided with a map showing where the missing pets lived
Susan speaks reassuringly to him as he miaows in fear, reminding him that he will hopefully soon be back with his owner.

At the end of each day in the field the volunteers transfer all of the animals they have caught to a central facility in Gonzales, just outside New Orleans, where they are assessed and, if necessary, treated by veterinarians.

Then another phalanx of volunteers bathes and feeds them, and gives them a little bit of the TLC that has been absent from their lives since their owners were made to leave them almost a month ago.

Finally the Humane Society then sets about the difficult task of reuniting the animals with their owners.

"We have a telephone hotline and a website where people can report their pets missing," Susan explained. "We get details from them on what kind of animal they have, where they lived, what it looks like and what its name is."

Volunteer effort

Each morning before setting out to their designated search area the teams are given a list detailing what pets they might see where they are heading.

Those details are later used to try to match up any animals they have retrieved with the owners.

The volunteers also try to provide help for the animals they do not manage to catch, leaving food and water dotted around the streets.

But for some pets it is other Katrina victims that make the difference.

Rosemary Phillips stayed in the city throughout the storm and is now part of the clean-up effort.

She recalls how as the other residents fled her neighbourhood of Algiers she met the new love in her life, a little puppy she calls Blondie.

"I was watching the crowds heading down to the ferry to be evacuated and there was this lady being followed by a little dog," Rosemary explained.

"Now this woman didn't like the dog and she kept trying to drive it off and shoo it away, and I thought to myself 'How mean can you be, don't you have a heart at all?'"

"So I told her that she didn't have to worry about that dog anymore, that I would take her with me," Rosemary says.

The Humane Society did offer to take Blondie off Rosemary's hands, but she is adamant that her new friend is staying.

"We sit on the porch together and eat ice and I just love her," she said.

"She is my treasure now."

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