In front of a group of potential owners, Bubba and Willie playfully pawed each other and ran around their cage last Monday at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.
Yet their vitality and jovial spirits belie the grave danger the two brown Sharpei-Terriers faced only a few weeks ago.
The 8-week-old puppies were born on the streets of Gulfport, Miss., to stray animals that either lost their homes during Hurricane Katrina, or were abandoned when their owners moved elsewhere.
“What they went through, or how they survived, is anyone’s guess,” said Katie Mt. Castle, deputy animal control officer for the Animal Welfare League.
They are part of a group of 12 dogs and three cats displaced by Hurricane Katrina that the Animal Welfare League offered up for adoption last week.
Earlier this month representatives from six area animal shelters traveled down to Gulfport to assist the Humane Society of Southern Mississippi, bringing back nearly 60 homeless animals to Northern Virginia. Workers came from shelters in Arlington, Alexandria, Manassas, Fairfax County, Loudoun County and Prince William County.
Gulfport has been overrun by stray animals, many of whom were reluctantly put out onto the streets when their owners had to leave their devastated homes.
“After the storm you had all these dogs running around and they decided it would be a good time to mate,” said Kay Speerstra, executive director of the Animal Welfare League. “Now there are puppies everywhere.”
The rebuilding efforts in Gulfport have progressed slowly, said Mt. Castle, who made the 20-hour trek down to the city in a van. Almost every home she saw in Gulfport still had shingles missing from the roof, or was using a blue tarp to keep out the rain.
The slow pace of reconstruction means that few residents are able to adopt and care for the hundreds of stray animals that are in local shelters.
“People are still in a transitional living situation,” said Speerstra. “It’s going to take while for everyone to stabilize down there.”
Some of the dogs were emaciated by the time they arrived in Arlington, and most needed some form of medical care. For the past two weeks they were placed with foster families, in order to gain weight, get healthy and adapt to their new surroundings.
Unfortunately, Bubba had a rough transition to home life. Once in the care of Arlington resident Stephanie Lane, the puppy lost weight. A veterinarian diagnosed that he had a bacterial infection. “The vet said he might die,” Lane said.
Luckily, Bubba recovered after a few days, and last Monday he and the 14 other animals rescued from Gulfport made their debut at the Animal Welfare League. For five hours residents were able to view the dogs and put in applications to adopt them.
“We’re very pleased with the response from the community,” Speerstra said. “We’ve had applications for all the dogs that we brought back and for others that were here already.”
The shelter gives away pets on a first-come, first-serve basis, and charges $120 for all dogs. Before an animal is released to an Arlington resident, all individuals who will be living with the pets must meet them and the staff at the shelter. Shelter representatives also conduct a home visit.
The competition for the adorable “Katrina puppies” was fierce. The Hof family had their eye on a 4-month-old Lab mix named Reba, but they were second in line for the dog. The two Hof daughters said they were excited about the prospects of having a new addition to the family, and that it felt “really good” that Reba had survived the aftermath of Katrina.
“She was rescued and now needs a home,” said Maddie Hof, 8.