|Katrina with Lt. Col. Mike Brasher.|
It's a far cry from how she began her life.
Sept. 1, 2005 -- New Orleans.
|Photo Courtesy U.S. Geological Survey|
Brasher and his rescue unit, the 301st Rescue Squadron out of Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, landed on part of I-10 near Lake Pontchartrain where dozens of people were stranded. But humans weren't the only creatures needing rescue.
"We could only carry six to sometimes 10 people, so we had to make multiple trips back," Mike recalled. "And this beagle just kept coming up to our helicopter."
|Sr. Master Sgt. Pete Callina with Katrina. |
Photo Courtesy Senior Airman Heather L. Kelly, Air Force
The beagle would also hang with Sr. Master Sgt. Pete Callina, who would gather the next group of survivors while the helicopter ferried people to safety. She would help herd people.
Brasher said his unit rescued 50 to 70 people from the bridge, and when they made their last trip, they took the beagle with them. She didn't seem to belong to anyone on the road.
They left her with one of the groups helping displaced animals, Brasher and his unit went on to rescue more people -- 184 people in 13 hours, he said.
Meanwhile Brasher's wife, Melanie, wondered why he didn't keep her. That started the search, especially after they saw the beagle on a Fox News report.
With the help of a webmaster for Petfinder.com, Melanie and Mike tracked the dog down to Arizona Humane Society in Phoenix. They had taken some 18 pictures of her from all angles, but the telling thing about her was a heart-shaped spot on her back.
The beagle, by now named Katrina, wasn't in great shape. She was heartworm positive, had respiratory problems and ear infections, along with cuts and scratches. But within two months she was on a Continental flight bound for Orlando -- for free. The humane society kitted her out with a bed that she still sleeps on and toys, most of which she didn't play with.
The Brashers knew they had the right dog, but if there was any doubt it was put to rest when Sgt. Callina and Katrina were reunited. "She jumped up on Pete, tail wagging," Mike said. "Pete cried."
It was after the Brashers got her that Katrina's family was found. The family had evacuated and left Katrina behind (many people left pets behind). They were living in FEMA housing while their house was rebuilt.
"We said we'll foster her until they're ready," Mike said.
But it didn't sound that the family wanted her back. The wife was upset that the shelter had fixed Katrina. It turns out she was kept in the backyard and used for breeding. In fact, she had given birth a few weeks before Hurricane Katrina. They tried to make her a hunting dog, but she was too skittish.
How did Katrina get on that highway? Brasher said the family lived between the lake and I-10. He believes when the flooding happened she was carried out of the yard to the overpass, and then she just climbed up.
Brasher said he contacted the husband.
"He asked, 'do you guys have kids? Do your kids love her?'" Mike said. "Melanie was in tears, I was bawling. I said 'we all love her.' So he said go ahead and keep her."
"We continue to think about oh, my God, all the luck, all the return on luck to find her."
Katrina's world is much different now. She's the 301st Rescue Squadron's unofficial mascot. She can wander Patrick Air Force Base, no questions asked. She has done appearances with kids too.
Mike's now in the corporate world, and he says people always ask about her. A vice president of a company once found a reason to fly to Orlando just so her could meet Katrina.
These days Katrina's not seeing and hearing as well as she used to (though her nose is just as good!). She has an enlarged heart, Cushing's disease and allergies. She takes pills in the morning and evening (using Publix rotisserie chicken). She'll still work for a snack.
In the last few months she's become a barker, even barking for hours when they're not home. Mike travels still for work, so he isn't home all the time.
"I lost a precious year out of her life, 2013-2014, on a military assignment," Mike said.
"If you weren't in the military, we wouldn't have had Katrina," Melanie tells him.
But for Melanie and Mike, Katrina is their obligation. She changed their lives.
"I would not discount the incredible chain of events that led to her," Mike said.
Mike helps a New Mexico animal rescue group that he says does amazing work. Animal Village in Alamogordo, New Mexico is a nine-acre no-kill facility that rescues death row cats and dogs. Its founders exhausted their savings to care for the animals.
"There are a lot of shelters between here and there, and a lot of shelters doing great work," Mike said. "But in New Mexico the quality of work they do is pretty rare." To find out more about the shelter and how to help them, head to their website.