“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.
“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.