“He’s very happy!” says Cavalier, a few days after the long-awaited reunion. “He was so glad to see me. Anytime I’d go to the supermarket or church, when I’d get back, he’d run up and down the house, jump up, stand up, do a little dance. He’s back at his clowning. He had a habit of lying flat on his stomach and he’d put his face right on top of my slipper and just sleep right there. He did that before Katrina and he’s doing it now.”
Cavalier feels indebted to Nicotera and Bauer, without whom he says he would’ve never recovered his dog. Both women stayed several days after the reunion to help gut Cavalier’s house, for which he is also most grateful.
“I never did give up,” says Cavalier. “I asked God, ‘Before I reach the end of my age, could I please see Bandit again?’ And my prayers were answered. A lot of people don’t believe in prayers, but I do. I’ve been through so much in my life,” says Cavalier. “My first wife died after childbirth, left me with children five, six and seven years old and a baby. I didn’t know what to do. Bad enough when the man dies. But when the lady die, and leave children with a man … I had a lot of help. Have courage and don’t give up.
Lisa Downs is taking Cavalier’s advice to heart. Lisa, who lived in Meraux, La.—a suburb east of New Orleans destroyed by storm surge—hopes to be reunited with her dog, too. She and her fiancé Robert Carter, their two-year-old son Devin, three dogs and two birds attempted to ride out the storm because their only car was not reliable for a long evacuation trip, despite having been seen by a mechanic earlier in the week. Someone offered them the use of a pick-up truck, but the couple refused because the small cab would not allow them to bring their beloved pets.
The storm surge was so strong that it forced open their front and back doors simultaneously, and Downs was pinned by the sofa. Carter grabbed Devin off the kitchen table and took him up to the attic, then freed Downs, who joined Devin in the attic. Carter then spent the next frantic few minutes in the water, trying to save all of their animals and get them up to the attic as well. A boat came to rescue them, and after insisting that they would only go if their animals could go too, the entire family was taken to a temporary shelter, albeit one still surrounded by water.
During the week following Katrina, the Downs–Carter family struggled to survive but with each step they took toward safety, they were forced by authorities to leave one more animal behind. They went from one temporary shelter to another. After days spent enduring the horrible conditions of the “Field from Hell,” a grassy area off the interstate where thousands of people were dumped without adequate food, water or sanitation, the only animal they had left was their smallest dog, a Shih Tzu mix named Lil Bit.
“When the buses came that Saturday [September 3, 2005] morning, I had Devon in one arm and Lil Bit in the other,” says Downs. “The bus driver said, ‘You can’t bring that dirty dog on this bus.’ My son was starting to cry. I said, ‘Please let us bring him, we’ve already lost everything, four animals, this is all we have.’ He actually looked at me and said, ‘You can always wait for the next bus,’ and he knew that wasn’t an option for us— we were all dehydrated and sunburned.”
Despite their pleading and begging, and their son’s tears, the driver would not back down. They set Lil Bit down in the grass and boarded the bus.
“We had Devin unexpectedly,” says Downs. “Prior to that we thought our animals were the only children we would ever have. We risked our own lives to save these animals, so to have [people] say, ‘Too bad, they don’t mean anything to us, you’re going to have to leave them behind,’ that was ….” Voice fading, she was unable to continue.
They eventually found refuge at Downs’ parents’ home in Memphis, Tenn. While visiting a Red Cross shelter there to fill out forms and request help, Downs first learned about Petfinder.com’s massive database for Katrina animals. Sadly, they learned that while their two large, senior dogs, Jordan and Ce-Ce, had been rescued from the location where the distraught family was forced to leave them, they were in such ill health that they were euthanized. Their two birds also did not survive.