When New Orleans homeless advocate Jessie J. Pullins was forced to evacuate the Big Easy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he followed orders from city officials and left his 3-year-old black Labrador retriever mix, JJ, enclosed in a room in his home with plenty of food and water. Pullins had been through hurricanes before. He left for Baton Rouge assuming he’d be back in a couple of days.
In the aftermath of the broken levees, two days became weeks as residents were prohibited from returning to their city. Worried tremendously about his best friend, Pullins took some comfort in reports that volunteers were going house to house to rescue pets.
By the time Pullins made it back to his ravaged home, the note that rescuers had left on his door had been blurred beyond readability by the floodwater. Pullins drove through the city in search of his pet to no avail. “At that point, he lost hope,” says Steve Dye, the man who would become Pullins’ attorney in his fight to reclaim his dog from the California family that eventually adopted him.
Problems Begin to Mount
Thousands of pets were left alone in New Orleans when residents like Pullins fled four years ago. Rescuers worked tirelessly to save the animals, sending the pets to nearby shelters, which quickly became overcrowded. Undeterred, the volunteers began airlifting dogs to other cities and states. JJ was among them, eventually winding up at a California shelter.
After Cesar Milan, better known as the Dog Whisperer, featured JJ on an episode about Katrina dogs, word got back to Pullins that his pet was on the West Coast. But by the time he found the shelter that had taken in JJ, the dog had already been adopted. The shelter owner did not wish to reveal JJ’s new whereabouts.
“That’s when I got a call,” says Dye, whose California-based office, Schnader Attorneys at Law, had done pro bono work for another Katrina family. “At first it seemed like a stretch to take a case about a dog, but Jessie had lost so much because of the storm, and in the midst of trying to rebuild his life, I realized if he could just have his dog back, it would help him so much.”
“I thought, ‘How hard could this be? I’ll make a couple of phone calls,’” remembers Dye. Although the shelter owner was resistant to providing contact information for JJ’s new owners, a year after contacting Dye, Pullins finally got the name of the family who had adopted his pet.
One Dog, Two Owners?
JJ’s new family had no idea that the canine they had grown to love was a Katrina dog. Once they learned the circumstances that landed JJ at their local shelter, they agreed to return him to Pullins. However, one of the owners soon had a change of heart, moving away and taking JJ along.
Once again, JJ’s location was unknown. Through additional efforts on the attorney’s part, the animal was found. Katrina was such an unusual tragedy that there was no precedent for something like this, and so a trial was set to resolve the issue. But just as the trial was about to begin, the new owner returned JJ voluntarily.
Back to New Orleans
Pullins and JJ had what Dye describes as “a very happy reunion” at the New Orleans airport in June. “Jessie called afterward and told me it was as if JJ had never been gone,” says Dye. JJ seemed to feel the same way, jumping all over his beloved owner the moment he saw him, covering him with the kisses of a long-lost friend now found.