Today, I want to tell you about the luckiest dog on earth. I'm not sure about his name. He's had several. What I do know is he lived in New Orleans in a poor neighborhood around Franklin and Florida avenues just south of the junction between Interstates 10 and 610.
How he lived there in the year or so he's been on earth I can't say. He's a male pit bull, the kind of dog that is often raised up for fighting or is at least expected to be some kind of protection dog. Apparently, judging from his sweet and unaggressive disposition, he was never subjected to the sort of cruelty that would make such a dog mean or dangerous. Whoever kept him probably loved him as a pet and companion.
I can only speculate on the details of how he was separated from his former owner. I first laid eyes on him the Saturday afternoon of Sept. 10. That day I accompanied several firemen and two policemen on a rescue mission to the city. I was in a boat with Denham Springs fireman Melvin Wheat and New Orleans Harbor Patrol Officer John Jones going house to house searching for survivors in an area where the water from Hurricane Katrina flooding was still covering the first story of most houses. We saw numerous pets stranded on some of the porches and evidence that some people had stayed behind in the second floors of their homes and did not want to leave still.
Jones was trying to find a passageway around the interstate to check out an address north of that area where a woman told us her mother may have been staying. We were unable to get through the debris to reach that location. However, as we approached the interstate, a man standing on the elevated highway above began shouting frantically at us. He wanted us to help a dog he had been watching struggle to get free from something keeping it trapped in water up to its neck. Realizing that both Jones and Wheat were armed for protection, he asked them to shoot the dog if they couldn't save it.
The two men climbed out of the boat and waded toward the dog, who apparently was simply too exhausted to struggle any more after spending 10 days in this nightmare water world that was once his home. Emaciated from days without food, sick from drinking the toxic water, he was truly in dire straits.
Wheat and Jones found the dog friendly, compliant and quite grateful to be lifted out of all this. The man who called the creature to our attention turned
out to be Associated Press photographer Ric Francis, who snapped pictures of the rescue and sent them out on the wire service. That day, Wheat, Jones and the pit bull were pictured in several newspapers and on several web sites that I know of.
When the men returned to the boat, they handed the dog to me. Suddenly, it became my responsibility, which was OK. It's difficult to explain to anybody who was not there, but I felt an overwhelming compulsion to save someone or something after spending that day literally surrounded by death in a ruined city. In this case, that someone was a starving dog, one of hundreds I had seen roaming the streets or sitting on rooftops waiting for their missing owners to return.
"This guy's going to be your friend for life," Sgt. Patrick Knab told me as the animal lay on my lap during the ride back to Denham Springs that night. Knab wanted to name him "Highwater," which I thought was more original than Wheat's chosen name of "Lucky." I told everyone who would listen all the reasons why I can't keep a pit bull, but I agreed to take care of him until a suitable home could be found. With a lot of help from my wife and daughter (who decided to call him "Gobo"), and forbearance from our cats, we managed to feed and medicate him back to health.
Tuesday I drove him to Tylertown, Miss., where a pit bull rescue organization, "Out of the Pits" from Albany, New York, was deployed last week as part of a mass animal rescue involving dozens of organizations and volunteers from around the country. I was truly impressed with the caring, humane approach these animal lovers exhibit. Lucky/Highwater/Gobo was immediately surrounded by four or five caring people who took him inside their camper and treated him like part of a family. He soaked it right up and gave back all the love he got. I want to particularly thank Mary and Rose for their assistance. I understand that he was transported back to New York Wednesday, is now in a caring home and has yet another name: "Skipper." Well, he'll always be "Lucky/Highwater/Gobo" to me.
Leaving him behind was a sad moment, for we had grown attached to one another. But I have great confidence he is on his way now to a better life than he ever dreamed of before. He is one lucky dog.