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After the Storm, Vermonters' Hearts Go to the Dogs

Local Matters


Published October 11, 2005 at 10:22 p.m.

BARRE -- Like FEMA to New Orleans, the horse trailer filled with crated canines came late. But for would-be doggie adopters in central Vermont last Sunday, it was better late than never.

At the Barre Fish & Game Club, more than 70 men, women and children showed up at noon prepared to take home a pooch from a Louisiana shelter. Most of the 40-some expected animals had been "surrendered" by owners who had no way to care for them in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; others were rescued strays. By the time the dogs reached Barre, they would have been in cages for more than 30 hours, moving northward to an unknown fate.

In the large room lined with mounted antlers, stuffed animal heads and pelts, people milled about, sat at long tables or helped themselves to free snacks. While awaiting the transport's scheduled 1 o'clock arrival, they listened attentively to representatives from the Central Vermont Humane Society, the receiving organization, and Project Starfish, the rescuers.

"We've done transports before, but this is what you call a pooch clearinghouse," suggested Dana Starr, business manager for CVHS. She then went on to caution the crowd about the possible physical and psychological condition of the animals, and the sensitive handling they might need. "Expect the unexpected," she said. "These dogs have been through hell."

Starr delivered a crash course on how to approach fearful, nervous dogs. A CVHS medical technician, there to examine the dogs, elaborated on the likely presence of heartworm, a parasite common in the South that is fatal if untreated. The medicines might cost upwards of $500, Starr noted. "That's why we need your generous donations today!" she encouraged cheerfully.

She then introduced three thirtysomething women from Project Starfish, a nonprofit hastily formed less than a week after Katrina struck New Orleans. "I kept watching the news about all these people being evacuated and losing their homes, and didn't hear anything about the animals," said volunteer Heidi Poor, explaining her motivation to get involved. She joined project founders Kara Peterson and Cynthia Sweet in traveling to Louisiana and Mississippi to rescue animals. Now the women, all from the Boston area, are focused on moving pets from two shelters to willing recipients across the country. So far they have transported more than 500 dogs, as well as a handful of cats and one pig.

As it turned out, the transport to Barre was five hours late, reportedly waylaid by torrential rains along the way. The crowd at the Fish & Game Club dispersed, but returned at 6 to find the police-escorted trailer. The dogs were uncrated one by one, leashed and allowed to pee and poop in the grassy field. Some of the animals were happy, wagging and licking these kind new humans; others were trembling with terror and needed a lot more reassurance. None was aggressive -- not even two sorry-looking pit bulls.

A vet examined each animal, and in the end all but three were adopted. One elderly dog with possible heartworm, and a feverish puppy, had to go to the animal hospital. The third, a Chow mix, smelled really bad, Sweet explained; he'd had diarrhea in his cage. "I'm sure after he gets cleaned up, someone will want to take him home," she added confidently.

As long as there are willing adoptive and foster families, Starr said, the CVHS will accept more animals. In fact, she noted, "Another transport is coming in a few weeks." m

To adopt a pet, or make a donation for animal rescue efforts, visit: or