This is Katrina.
She’s a 15-and-a-half-year-old beagle living in a fancy house on a golf course in Orlando. She spends her day snoozing (snoring!) on her choice of dog beds, enjoying walks and treats and of course, her meals. Looking at this tiny senior beagle with her bad legs and her nearly white fur, you’d never believe the amazing journey she’s lived through to get to her life today.
Katrina wasn’t always named Katrina. Her name used to be Candy. And she used to live in New Orleans.
Col. Mike Brasher first saw Katrina on an I-10 overpass on Sept. 1, 2005. Katrina was stranded on the highway with a few dozen of her new friends. They were all victims of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
“The morning of Sept. 1, we found this huge batch of people on the I-10 overpass,” Brasher said. “And that’s where Katrina was. And she kept running up to the helicopter.”
Brasher was part of the 301st Rescue Squadron out of Patrick Air Force Base. His unit has been all over the world, helping rescue military personnel out of dangerous situations. They were among the first on the scene in New Orleans after Katrina. They’d spent that first night pulling people stranded in hospitals and nursing homes, and they had come across this group of 50-70 people stranded on the I-10 near Lake Pontchartrain.
“It was one of the moments where we saw so much loss, she provided our first levity of the entire situation,” Brasher said. “We said ‘hey, look at this funny little beagle!’ We kind of figured out she was special right from the very beginning.”
Brasher and his unit took Katrina off the unit and handed her over to paramedics, who got her to a shelter. From there, she bumped around from New Orleans to Baton Rouge and ended up at the Arizona Humane Society in Phoenix. She had heartworm damage, respiratory problems and ear infections.
But that wasn’t the end. Katrina’s spunk stuck with the 301st Rescue Squadron. When Brasher got back from New Orleans he told her story to his wife, Melanie, who asked why Brasher didn’t bring Katrina home. The search began for Katrina – hours on Petfinder.com, combing through hundreds of beagle listings. Brasher tracked her down to the Arizona Humane Society, and they put Katrina on a Continental flight out to Orlando, Florida.
But there was one thing that had to be settled before Katrina truly belonged to the Brashers. Katrina had a family before the storm.
Katrina’s family lived on the east side of New Orleans between I-10 and Lake Pontchartrain. She was supposed to be a hunting dog, but she was too skittish. So they bred her. She’d had puppies over a month before the storm. They left her behind when they evacuated. The Humane Society found the family in December. Their home had been destroyed and they were rebuilding. But Katrina’s mom was not happy the shelter had spayed their beagle.
Brasher contacted Katrina’s dad.
“He asked, ‘do you guys have kids? Do the kids love her?’” Brasher said. “Melanie was in tears, I was bawling. ‘We all love her!’ I said. So he said go ahead and keep her.”
That was 10 years ago. Katrina is living on what Brasher calls “borrowed beagle time,” with her Cushing’s disease, hip dysplasia and enlarged heart.
But pull out the Publix rotisserie chicken for her pill, or take her out for her afternoon walk and you see a dog with plenty of spunk still, who knows there’s a Milkbone for her at the end of that walk. She’s become an unofficial mascot for her dad’s unit, and she’s gone to classrooms and talked to kids about what his unit’s done.
The Brashers have celebrated Katrina’s birthday on Sept. 1 ever since. For them, Katrina is their obligation. She’s changed their lives.