Court Battle Continues Over Katrina Dogs

Judge rules that custody case will go to trial in April.

Posted: February 2, 2007, 5 a.m. EST

A judge has denied a motion that would have allowed two Florida women to keep two dogs who were left behind by a Louisiana couple in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Steven and Dorreen Couture, of St. Bernard Parish, La., filed suit in June 2006 to reclaim two dogs displaced during the hurricane and adopted by Pam Bondi and Rhonda Rineker, both of Dunedin, Fla.

The suit also faults the Humane Society of Pinellas, Fla., the organization that adopted out the dogs.

The Coutures left the dogs at a makeshift shelter after Hurricane Katrina. The couple has said they were told at the shelter they could reclaim the dogs later. The dogs were brought to Florida by the Humane Society in September 2005 and were adopted the following month.

The Coutures eventually tracked the dogs — a St. Bernard and a German Shepherd Dog mix — to Tampa Bay. But by then, Bondi had adopted the St. Bernard and Rineker the Shepherd mix.

Rineker’s attorney had argued that the Humane Society of Pinellas, Fla., took legal custody of the dogs using lawful “police power” before adopting them out. But in a Feb. 1 ruling, Judge Henry J. Andringa disagreed, saying “the two dogs in question were not impounded pursuant to the (county’s) ordinance.”

The judge’s ruling will send the case over the dogs’ ownership to trial, currently scheduled for April 16.


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Katie   Suwanee, GA

11/8/2007 3:09:33 PM

This is a lesson... if you need to leave quikly to escape always bring your pets.

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P.B.   St. Bernard, LA

2/2/2007 7:42:47 AM

I am also a resident of St. Bernard Parish where the Couture family is from and a person proudly owned by animals. This story and subject is one that hits home particularly hard for me. I think it is absolutely ridiculous that the Coutures have not been given custody of their animals back. What happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is not the owners' fault. Conditions were so bad in the parish after the storm, you could not even imagine it in your worst nightmare. These people were assured their animals would be cared for and kept safe until they could be reclaimed. We were all in a situation where those heartbreaking decisions had to be made to separate from our companions. In some cases the decision was forced upon animal owners with no say so whatsoever. I myself lost everything I owned in Hurricane Katrina, including most of my beloved pets. I had several reptiles, a bird, and 2 dogs. I was only able to take the dogs when I evacuated. Where I lived had never flooded before, so I thought the stress of evacuation was best avoided considering the delicate natures of my avian and reptilian friends (previous evacuations proved horrendous, like a normally 2 hour drive to Baton Rouge drive taking 22 hours alone). I was lucky enough to get my dogs into an animal sanctuary that would house them for me for up to a year after the storm. It was heavily damaged during Hurricane Rita 3 weeks later and I ultimately had to make the tough decision to put my two dogs up for adoption because I had no place to live and no means to take care of myself, much less my babies. There was no place in the parish to get fresh water, dog food, veterinary care...anything because everything was destroyed. We weren't allowed to live there and weren't even allowed back in for a "look and leave" until a month and a half after Katrina. I still miss my animals terribly, but I know they are being well cared for in their new home (and I know I will see the others over the Rainbow Bridge one day). The important note here is that I made the decision to place my dogs in a new home, it wasn't forced upon me by some outside agency. There are many others in the same situation. There was no way out for many people and animals and no say so after the fact. Many hotels refused to take pets and no emergency shelter would either. A year and a half later, we are still trying to recover emotionally and financially. What was once a thriving, close knit community is still devastated, with a population no where near pre-storm levels. There is no sense of normalcy. What the Coutures are being denied is some semblence of that normalcy and the reunion of their family and it is not fair. I implore the judge in Florida to make the right decision and give those dogs back to the Coutures. They have lost so much already. Any of you out there who agree, please make it known. Try to imagine yourself in that horrifying situation. Because of the large scale of rescue efforts, both human and animal, information wasn't accurate, paperwork got lost, and people had alot of trouble tracking down their animals. Let's not lose sight of the fact that this was the largest natural disaster ever in American history and no one was in any way, shape, or form prepared for everything that followed. These were caring dog owners, caught in a nightmare, who thought they were doing what was best for their animals to keep them safe and cared for. Good luck to the Couture family and any other hurricane victims out there trying to get their animals back and their lives back on track. Know you are not alone and that you have people pulling for you. God Bless!

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