Missing pets leave owners sad, searching

January 20, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES -- Carol Hamilton is convinced that this must be her cat, the one she lost in the dark of a morning when the ground heaved and homes crumbled.

The fur is soft and jet black. The eyes are big and bright. But something is wrong.

"She's just too light," Mrs. Hamilton says. "This isn't my baby. This isn't my cat."

Mrs. Hamilton begins to cry as she puts the animal back into a cage.

"Everything in my house is broken," she says. "I don't need cinder block walls and a chimney. But that cat . . . I can't stand the thought of my Shadow out there scared and alone. This is making me crazy."

A lot of things were lost when the biggest earthquake to hit the Los Angeles area rolled through the San Fernando Valley early Monday.

Freeways buckled, homes collapsed and people died.

And scores of animals perished, too.

There is no count of the dead dogs and cats littering the valley's roadways and back yards, but there is a frantic search to find the missing.

So hundreds of men, women and children stream into the West Valley Center shelter in Chatsworth, in search of lost dogs and cats.

They are people like Ed Fuchs, who is trying to recover his son's golden retriever.

Mr. Fuchs has been to five shelters and still hasn't found Lamb.

"I can't even talk about it," he says, weeping.

And like Paula Brooks and her daughter Alissa, who are hunting for a 9-year-old cat named Chaz.

"She's on her sixth life, so I think she's going to come back," Mrs. Brooks says. "That cat got hit by a truck once, and still lived. She had a thorn in her eyeball."

Chaz lives outdoors and gives the Brooks family a wake-up call at 5:30 a.m. But Monday, she disappeared.

"Who am I going to do the gardening with if I don't find her?" Mrs. Brooks asks.

The shelter is part refugee camp, part hospital. More than 100 dogs are crowded into 25 cages.

An Irish setter is bunking with a boxer. A pair of Siberian huskies drink water together. A Doberman rooms alone.

In the emergency room, there is a cat with a concussion and a golden retriever with a broken leg.

And Kayce Hall is polishing the floor, a volunteer who has come 200 miles from Atascadero to care for the animals.

"People see injured animals, and it brings home their mortality," she says. "Some of these people who come here have lost everything, and they are just hoping to find their animal. They want something to love."

Terri Crisp has seen animals and people in distress all too often as head of the United Animal Nation's disaster-relief team. She has hopscotched from the Exxon Valdez oil disaster to Hurricane Andrew to the Midwest floods.

The earthquake isn't the worst disaster for animals. But just like humans, she says, they are traumatized when the ground shakes and buildings collapse.

"The hurricane in Miami was by far the worst, because animals were literally thrown into the air," she says. "We had snakes and llamas on the loose. Here, it's mostly dogs and cats.

"To a lot of people, their animals are like their kids," she says. "When you go through a disaster, your priorities do change. Sometimes, people would rather take out a TV set than a dog. That's sad. But most of the time, these people love their animals."

To understand just what it means to find a loved animal, meet the Funk family of Chatsworth.

When the quake hit, their year-old dog Shadow, a Rottweiler, took off in fright. Ever since, they have gone from shelter to shelter in search of Shadow.

And on a weekday afternoon, Alena Funk and her daughter Cheryl make yet another trip into the West Valley Center.

As they get to the front door, two men are bringing in a Rottweiler.

"That's him," Alena Funk says, bursting into tears. "That's him."

But the dog doesn't appear to recognize the women. So Mrs. Funk races to a telephone and calls her husband, who rushes from work to the center.

When Herb Funk appears three minutes later, the dog leaps into his arms. "I've been looking for you, Baby," he says.

Tony Hendricks and Jimmy Boatwright, the men who found Shadow, smile.

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