Cavalier had stayed for the storm, but as waters rose, he knew he needed to get to higher ground. Planning to return for Bandit, he left food and water, wedged the door open so the dog could go on the porch, and waded to the Superdome. Animal rescuers saved Bandit, and members of another group, Voices for Animals, transported him to Pennsylvania. But Cavalier, who ended up at the Houston Astrodome, didn’t even know where to start looking for his best friend. That’s where Nicotera and Bauer came in. (If you’d like to read more about Cavalier and Bandit’s saga, please go to a blog
created by Bauer.)
“Malvin was married for 54 years and his wife passed away four years ago,” says Nicotera. “They had the dog together. He lost his wife and then it was just him and Bandit. You know what that bond is like. It’s one of those things that’s hard to explain. His dog has been his life for a really long time. He loves this dog, the dog loves him. Bandit had appropriate identification as Malvin’s dog. That should’ve been reason enough to return him. I do in all sincerity feel very badly for the people who adopted the dog, because they adopted [him] with terrible misinformation. That is the biggest problem with rescue and return.”
Duane Greilich and Lisa Fox thought they were doing a good thing. The husband and wife, who live near Pittsburgh, often foster dogs for Animal Friends, a local no-kill shelter. In late September 2005, they received a call asking if they would temporarily take in a Katrina dog. The couple, who have two dogs of their own, were happy to help, and agreed to foster Bandit. About one month later, they were told that Cavalier, the owner, did not want Bandit back. Fox’s boss offered to informally adopt him, and in December 2005, Bandit went to his new home.
Says Greilich, “When we got him, he looked bad. He had skin disease, but that could’ve been from the water. He had really bad fleas, but that could’ve come from being around other pets. So I guess [the initial rescuer], when he picked up Bandit, thought he was abandoned, that it was animal cruelty, and he got the ball rolling that Malvin didn’t want the dog back.”
Bandit was also intact. As a rule, Animal Friends spays or neuters all animals who enter their system. Unfortunately, the fact that many Katrina animals were not spayed or neutered was often pointed to as “proof” that these pets were neglected and that they should not be returned.
“No one is accepting the difference in the culture for what it is,” says Nicotera. “If the pet is not spayed or neutered, that translates into, ‘You don’t know how animals should be treated and you shouldn’t have one.’ Even now, I’m involved with animal-response teams, and [when] I talk about my experience down there, they are so judgmental. They have the notion that every pet in New Orleans was chained on a porch and the owners went away and said, ‘Die!’ That’s exactly what they think.”
When asked why she thought Cavalier should get his dog back, Nicotera says, “Simply, Bandit is his dog. It’s the last thing he wants before he leaves this earth. At 86 years old, he should have it.”
In June 2006, Cavalier filed a lawsuit, personally financed by Bauer, against Lisa Fox, the last person known to have Bandit, for his return. Soon thereafter, Greilich and Fox requested an opportunity to speak to Cavalier directly. Greilich says the attorney for Voices for Animals, concerned about liability, told them no.
“She said that if we gave the dog back and he died, that Malvin could sue us,” says Greilich. “I was like, ‘This is ridiculous!’ This is just about a man and his dog. I decided to find this Malvin Cavalier myself.” Within 15 minutes, he says, he had Cavalier’s phone number. Once Greilich and Fox learned the truth, that Cavalier wanted the dog back and always had, they agreed to send Bandit home. On August 31, 2006, Cavalier’s wish came true.
Nicotera, who lives in Pennsylvania, flew with Bandit to New Orleans, where they were picked up at the airport by Bauer, who is from Canada. The threesome traveled to Cavalier’s FEMA trailer in front of his 9th Ward home, where Cavalier and Bandit saw each other for the first time in over a year.