Dogs & Cats Forever gives Hurricane Katrina victim, pet ‘storybook ending’
By TYLER TREADWAY
“Jill” is “Elsa” once again.
Shortly after noon Tuesday, Jenna LaFuentes, who lost her New Orleans home in Hurricane Katrina, was reunited with her cat Elsa, who has been known as Jill at the Dogs & Cats Forever shelter in Port St. Lucie for the past 1 1/2 years.
When she saw the cat in its carrier at the Delta Air Lines counter in Orlando International Airport, LaFuentes broke into tears.
“It was wonderful,” Andrea Nicholson, a volunteer at the no-kill shelter who helped reunite the pet and owner, said at the airport after the reunion. “At the shelter, Jill always ran from strangers; but not today. She acted like she wanted Jenna to pet her. Jenna is convinced that this is her cat, and we’re convinced this is her cat.”
Nicholson reported that LaFuentes peeked in the carrier and said to Elsa, “How are you, baby? I thought I’d never see you again.”
Just before Katrina hit in August 2005, LaFuentes and her 11-year-old daughter, Destiny Taylor, fled their ground-floor apartment in St. Bernard’s Parish and left the gray, tiger- striped Elsa in the care of neighbors upstairs.
But the rising water threatened the upstairs apartment, too; and the neighbors were forced to abandon their home and the cats.
After the storm, LaFuentes searched Web sites for animal shelters that took in animals left homeless by Katrina. In October, she saw a photo of “Jill” on the Dogs & Cats Forever site and was convinced it was Elsa.
Once shelter officials were convinced as well, the reunion was arranged thanks to an anonymous donor who paid LaFuentes’ airfare from New Orleans to Orlando and back home.
Nicholson and Jay Apicella, the shelter director, drove Jill from Port St. Lucie to Orlando for the rendezvous.