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Andrew Locke and Bob Sullivan

From Sept. 22-27, the posts in this blog about Rita's evacuation and devastation were reported and photographed by Bob Sullivan and Andrew Locke. Sullivan, 37, is MSNBC.com's technology and consumer fraud reporter. Locke, 34, in charge of MSNBC.com's editorial strategy, was on his second hurricane blog tour.

David Friedman and Miguel Llanos

From Sept. 18-22, the posts in this blog, examining Katrina's impact on the environment, were reported and photographed by Miguel Llanos and David Friedman. Llanos, 45, is MSNBC.com's environmental reporter. Photojournalist Friedman, 35, is a multimedia producer at MSNBC.com.

Kari Huus and Jim Seida

From Sept. 10-16, the posts in this blog were reported and photographed by Kari Huus and Jim Seida. Huus, 43, has been a journalist for 20 years and a reporter with MSNBC.com since 1996. Seida, 39, has been a media editor with the Web site since 1996.

Mike Brunker and Andrew Locke mugshot

From Sept. 2-9, the posts in this blog were reported and photographed by Mike Brunker, left, and Andrew Locke. A journalist for 25 years, Brunker, 49, is MSNBC.com's West Coast news editor. Locke, 34, has been a journalist for 17 years and is currently in charge of MSNBC.com's editorial media strategy.

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A 'miracle,' but is it too late?

Posted: Thursday, September 8 at 04:47 pm CT by Mike Brunker

SLIDELL, La. –- It seems as if one more miracle might not be enough.

As regular Katrinablog readers know, on Thursday we accompanied a Slidell animal control officer and a volunteer from the Noah’s Wish animal rescue organization to the condominium of Bill Harris in search of his “miracle” cat, Miss Kitty. They found nothing at the scene, where Harris spent three days standing on a chair in his flooded unit clutching Miss Kitty to his chest and praying, but they set a trap in hopes that the cat was still in the area and hiding.

050908_blog_misskitty_shelter_1Video: Donna Wackerbauer and Horace Troullier arrive at the Noah's Wish animal shelter in Slidell, La. to visit the cat they found at Bill Harris' residence Thursday. The cat matches the description Harris provided, but until the two are reunited (at least with photographs) no one will know for sure whether the cat is actually Harris'. (Andrew Locke / MSNBC.com)

Our hopes of reuniting Bill with his cherished pet dented but not gone, we drove to Covington, La., for a poor night’s sleep and a visit to an impressive “special needs” shelter there.

We are just finishing our interview with shelter director John Tobin when Andrew’s phone rings. It’s Mike Stuckey, our editor in Redmond, Wash., telling us that Horace Troullier, the Slidell animal control officer, just called to say he thinks they caught Miss Kitty.

We can hardly believe our ears but are exchanging high-fives without knowing any facts, wanting very badly for the news to be true.

We try to call Troullier, but our cell phones aren’t working. Fortunately, Tobin has an unrivaled communications system in this neck of the woods and radios Covington animal control to get them to contact Troullier on our behalf. A few minutes pass before we hear the response blare out of the radio: “Horace has that cat, Miss Kitty.”

Stunned almost to speechlessness, we babble our goodbyes to Tobin and set off for the Red Cross shelter in Evans Creek, where we met Harris on Monday, which fortuitously was only about 20 miles from Covington.

We decide during our drive not to tell Bill about the discovery initially, not wanting to get his hopes up in case it turns out to be the wrong cat. Instead we’ll simply say that we’ve contacted some animal rescue experts and that they’re looking for the 17-year-old brown and gray cat. Then, we’ll drive to Slidell and figure out the best way to make a positive identification.

We walk in the shelter and tell one of the volunteers there that we’re looking for Harris and watch her face plunge. Slowly, she says that Bill, who has chronic kidney failure, has been taken away for medical treatment. She says she’d like to tell us more, but the Health Information Privacy Act bars the release of such medical information.

Moments later, we find another person at the shelter who tells us what happened: Just hours after Bill told us his heart-rending story and pleaded for help finding his cat, he collapsed and had what appeared to be a seizure. A doctor at the shelter declared that Bill was in need of immediate hospitalization and bundled him into his car and drove away.

The person providing the account didn’t know where the doctor took Bill, and the Red Cross personnel at the shelter said they couldn’t provide that information, again citing HIPA

Crushed at this sudden reversal, we get back into our minivan and drive to the animal rescue center in Slidell. There, we encounter a visibly excited Troullier and Donna Wackerbauer, the Noah’s Wish volunteer.

“I’m shaking I’m so excited. I’m about to throw up,” Wackerbauer says as we walk up.

Troullier says they found the cat in the trap they set at Harris’ condominium when they returned Thursday morning.

“She jumped out of the truck first, but I beat her to the scene,” said Troullier, declaring it the most exciting moment he’s had on the job.

We squat down to see into the cage they are hovering over and there, scrunched in the back, is a sleepy-looking long-haired cat with yellow-colored eyes looking calmly to the left. Its coloring is a mix of brown and gray, not in patches like a calico but intermixed over most of her body.

Troullier says the cat is an adult female though her age is hard ascertain.

Still, the cat fits Harris’ description to a T, and Troullier says he has no doubts.

“That’s Miss Kitty,” he says. “It’s just got to be.”


The cat rescued from Bill Harris' condo in Slidell, La. has yellow eyes and brown-grey, medium length fur. (Andrew Locke / MSNBC.com)

Andrew and I are reluctant to ruin the moment, but after allowing them a few more moments of excitement we tell them that Bill was taken to the hospital and his fate is unknown.

The cruel twist of fate sinks in quickly, and both are silent for several beats as they consider the possibilities.

“Our priority right now is to reunite this cat with this gentleman,” Troullier says. “Whatever it takes, it’s just got to happen.”

Wackerbauer has tears in her eyes and is fighting hard to retain her composure. “If we can, we’ve got to get a message to him,” she says. “It may help.”

As Andrew thanks the officer and the rescuer for their efforts and promises to let them know if we find anything, I squat down again and gently call out, “Miss Kitty?”

The cat meows softly before a volunteer lifts the cage and returns her to the cooler temperature in the shelter.

Because of the HIPA law, we have little chance of getting any information about Harris, even if we can figure out where he was taken. But we do have a few thin leads to pursue, and our readers’ resourcefulness gives us a fighting chance to figure out what happened:

If anyone has any information on the whereabouts of Jane B. Harris, Bill’s mother, please send a comment to this blog posting with the note "RE: BILL HARRIS" at the beginning. Jane Harris is a patient at the Trinity Nursing Home in Slidell and was evacuated before the hurricane, but Bill told us he wasn’t sure where she had been taken. As his next of kin, she is entitled to information about his condition that we are not.

Can anyone identify the doctor who rushed Bill away from the Red Cross shelter on Monday? 

Does anyone know the veterinarian that treated Miss Kitty in Slidell? That person could probably make a positive identification.

Again, if you can answer any of these questions, please comment to this posting with "RE: BILL HARRIS" at the very beginning of your reply.

And, finally, please join us in praying for Bill Harris and continue to hold out hope that he may yet be reunited with Miss Kitty.

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Microsoft Katrina blog

Posted on Sep 8, 2005 7:56:15 PM at: Mike Fullerton's blog