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Published: Monday, 2/6/2006

Canine Katrina survivor bounces back

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Heidi Agerter, 32, of Maumee went to the New Orleans area in September as a volunteer for the Humane Society of the United States. While searching for animals in St. Bernard Parish, she found Orley in a house. The dog appeared neglected and possibly abused. Ms. Agerter recalls saying, 'I can't leave her down here, not after I rescued her.' Heidi Agerter, 32, of Maumee went to the New Orleans area in September as a volunteer for the Humane Society of the United States. While searching for animals in St. Bernard Parish, she found Orley in a house. The dog appeared neglected and possibly abused. Ms. Agerter recalls saying, 'I can't leave her down here, not after I rescued her.'
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When Heidi Agerter first led the mangy black dog from a destroyed New Orleans home, she made it a promise.

"I promised her a better life. I felt so sorry for her down there," said Ms. Agerter, who spent more than a week last year helping rescue animals from the hurricane-ravaged cities in Louisiana. "My heart just went out to her. I said, 'I can't leave her down here, not after I rescued her.' "

As part of an effort that attracted thousands of volunteers from all over the country, Ms. Agerter, 32, of Maumee took a week of vacation from her job as a pricing analyst at Dana Corp. and headed south.

A Humane Society volunteer for nearly seven years, Ms. Agerter decided to apply with the Humane Society of the United States as a rescue worker in one of their two makeshift facilities - one in Mississippi, the other in Gonzales, La. Thousands of animals were cared for at each site and then shipped to other facilities to make room for new animals.

For most of her week down South, which ran from Sept. 24 through Oct. 1, Ms. Agerter spent her time caring for animals brought to the shelter.

But for two days, she went into the storm-ravaged streets of St. Bernard Parish, where in one home she discovered Orley.

"She had ear infections, eye infections, heartworm, and a BB in her back," Ms. Agerter said. "It was very obvious she was neglected and likely abused."

John Agerter, Heidi's father, will take Orley with him to his Florida home. John Agerter, Heidi's father, will take Orley with him to his Florida home.
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So when it was time to head back to Toledo, Ms. Agerter removed a cooler from her small, black convertible and made room for her new companion.

Calling it the "largest disaster that her organization has ever seen in terms of animals," Melissa Seide Rubin, vice president of Field and Disaster Services for the Humane Society of United States, said that volunteers were essential in saving nearly 10,000 animals from the region. Of the animals rescued, more than 2,270 were returned to their owners.

"Over 8,000 animals went through [the Louisiana site]. At times, there were about 1,500 animals there at a time," Ms. Rubin said. "We needed over 200 people a day just to clean the cages and crates. Everyone just really reached out to help the animals."

After arriving in Toledo, Orley was treated for several months by a Humane Society veterinarian, Dr. Deb Johnson. She has been cured of heartworm, and the infections have all been cleared up.

The thick, black coat of a chow - or maybe she's a Shar Pei - has returned, and she has gained weight, now weighing in at about 33 pounds.

Because Ms. Agerter's two dogs, Rufus and Ben, were already a handful, she gave Orley to her father for "just a few days." John Agerter, 55, a retired UPS worker, said he's relieved that the time given to owners to claim their pets before they can be adopted has long passed.

Mr. Agerter and Orley are planning on heading to Florida, where he has purchased a home in Lorida. There the shy mutt will have a big yard to play in, Mr. Agerter promised. But, more importantly, she'll be loved by someone with a big heart.

"I wasn't sure she could look this good again. She was such a mess when these guys got her," Dr. Johnson said. "I'm just so glad [they] kept her. She's a lucky girl."

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-724-6076.



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