Barbara Bent and her husband had been content to be a "two-dog" family. But the Eldersburg woman is cradling Baby Gizmo in her arms, and she doesn't want the puppy, a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, to leave.
"He's turned into my shadow," Bent says. "I was hoping another two weeks would go by and we'd get to keep him."
Gizmo is one of at least 80 pets pulled from the wreckage on the Gulf Coast who are being cared for in shelters or homes in Maryland. Some in foster care here may become permanent, adopted family members. But others are only temporary companions, bound to return one day to their homes in the South.
In Louisiana, a woman is eagerly awaiting Gizmo's return.
"He's all we have left," says Missy Krol, whose home in St. Bernard Parish might have to be demolished because of the damage done by 5 feet of water. By phone, she says the dog was a pal to her 5-year-old granddaughter, and adds, "I'm thankful he's alive, and someone's taking care of him."
Many pet owners thought they would only be gone a day or two when they left their pets behind as Katrina approached, says Belinda Mager, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society of the United States. More than 7,400 animals were rescued on the Gulf Coast by groups working with the Humane Society, which used facilities in Louisiana and Mississippi to temporarily house the pets, Mager says.
Most of the dogs and cats have been accepted by animal shelters and rescue groups across the country to be placed in foster homes, and, if their owners don't claim them, put up for adoption. Mager says the groups are being asked to make every effort to reunite the pets with their owners.
More than 600 pets were returned to their owners before they had to be taken for longer-term care. In the weeks that have followed, another 150 pets have been returned to their owners, who have searched for them using the Internet or a phone service called Pet Finder, Mager says.
Some of the owners don't have housing arrangements in place to accept their animals. In many other cases, the animals were severely dehydrated or otherwise sick or injured when rescued, and they are being nursed back to health in preparation for their homecomings.
As Katrina pets continue to arrive in Maryland, volunteers with local animal rescue organizations say they need more people willing to provide both foster and permanent homes.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Anne Arundel County has nine Katrina-displaced dogs and three cats - all from a shelter in Mississippi - that will be ready for adoption in the next few weeks when they finish medical treatments.
And the Montgomery County Humane Society may still receive another 80 pets, volunteers say.
Mount Airy-based Tails of Hope Sanctuary has placed two dozen Katrina dogs, including Gizmo, in foster homes. Dana Wakefield, a volunteer with the organization, said she expects to see more.
"There's a real need for people to take these pets on an emergency basis," she says.
Wakefield has two foster dogs.
One, a basset hound-beagle mix named Bernard by rescuers, was heartworm-positive, requiring intensive, painful treatment. Wakefield's second foster dog, a beagle named Sherlock, has to be kept from other pets because he has pneumonia.
Jennifer Hammond, a former veterinarian technician from Laurel who went to Louisiana to help at an emergency pet facility twice last month and brought home 49 dogs to Montgomery County's Humane Society, says it's hard to imagine how many pets need foster or permanent homes. "It's heartbreaking," she says.
She now has two new dogs, including a foster Rottweiler named Soulja who rescued her owner by pulling the woman to the side of their New Orleans home from a strong current, says Hammond, who says she has spoken to the woman on the telephone. Because of spotty telephone service, the woman could not be reached for an interview.
A helicopter rescued the woman from the roof of her home and a boat rescued the dog from the top of the house, Hammond says.
Hammond was able to track the owner because the dog has a small microchip inserted beneath its skin, which contains a code used to identify the animal. She hopes to reunite the dog with his owner by Thanksgiving.
Hammond will be keeping a Labrador retriever-hound puppy that had been bred for illegal dog fighting and was left on a flooded overpass with the rest of the litter. Hammond says she nursed the puppy, now named Koda, from near-death as she and the other Montgomery County volunteers drove back from Louisiana.
Krol, the 44-year-old Louisiana woman who owns Baby Gizmo, says that when she evacuated to Alexandria, La., to ride out the storm with friends, she expected to be gone only a day or two, and she followed instructions to leave pets behind. She left Gizmo - whom she described as a Maltese mix - in her daughter's second-floor apartment in St. Bernard Parish, hoping he would stay dry on higher ground.