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Refuge from the storm

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As Hurricane Katrina roared through New Orleans the morning of Aug. 29, Gabriel and Gillie snuggled close in the heat and didn't make a sound. Windows in the old warehouse shattered, yet Gabe and Gillie were silent and still. The wind and sound shook the building and they barely reacted except to snuggle closer. I had feared that Gillie's anxiety-ridden personality would be unbearable and Gabriel's stubbornness might become a liability in case of emergency. I could not have been more wrong. Somehow they understood completely.

The city simultaneously drowned and burned as we drove north later that week. Open gas stations were rare and hotels completely full through Mississippi and Alabama. We slept in the car and while we waited in hours-long gas lines I walked them in the grass on the roadside. Their wagging tails and happy faces cheered up everyone they met. At one stop, a little girl told me that she had left her dog in Chalmette but that they would be going back to get her soon. I locked eyes with her father and our eyes welled with tears. After many hours in the car, Gabriel finally succumbed to exhaustion and curled up on the seat. Gillie, however, would not leave his guard post. Numerous times he fell asleep sitting up and cracked his head on the window as he fell. Like many things in those days, this seemed both incredibly sad and hysterically funny.

From Baton Rouge to Raleigh, Charlotte and finally Austin, Gabe and Gillie adjusted well, made friends easily and got me away from CNN and my insurance company's telephone-hold muzak to walk, explore and breathe fresh air. When we were finally allowed to go home, we had car trouble on the way, missed the curfew and couldn't get into our neighborhood. One o'clock in the morning, watching my dogs play fetch with armed soldiers on the median of one of the busiest streets in the city, was one of the most surreal sights in a really surreal two months.

Those first several weeks back in New Orleans were rough. I was one of the few women in the sparsely populated city. Gabriel and Gillie became more protective of our home and me. Few of my friends had returned. Other than a couple of neighbors, Gabriel and Gillie were my support network. OK, they didn't help me repair the damaged house and yard, but--with the exception of an unfortunate drywall compound paw incident on the hardwood floor--they did stay out of the way.

So I fixed and sold the house and now my two New Orleans street strays and I live in Durham. Though previously urban dogs, they tromp through the woods as if they've always been here. I think the fresh air and green are healing all three of us. Occasionally I have moments when I just want to go home, no longer sure exactly where that is. Then I remember: Home is where my boys are.

Many organizations are still caring for thousands of companion animals not as lucky as Gabriel and Gillie. To adopt, volunteer or donate, visit www.humanela.org, www.southernanimalfoundation.com or www.la-spca.org. Read Managing Editor Jennifer Strom's account of animal rescue along the Gulf Coast at www.indyweek.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A25398. For more on life after Katrina, read this week's cover story, "Are we next?"

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