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The Dog with Happy Tail Syndrome

Like the other 101 Katrina dogs shipped with him from Louisiana, Brutus arrived in San Diego County tired and stunned by all the activity, the people, and the cross-country flight to a strange land.

William Gugliuzza and Brutus BETH MALLON PHOTOGRAPHY
He and the others had been shuttled to the staging area of the Campus for Animal Care (a joint-use property of the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA and the County of San Diego Animal Services), where they were triaged before being divided among seven animal care agencies in the area.

From there Brutus took yet another ride, this time in the back of an animal control vehicle. One of eight animals taken to the new county shelter in Carlsbad, the dog settled into a quiet kennel with heated floors, clean water, and fresh air—quite a change from his recent accommodations.

The dogs were segregated to a safe area and kept in quarantine so medical staff could monitor their condition. Because of the dogs’ possible previous exposure to caustic chemicals and other hazardous materials, staff were “hands off” with them for a few days. But soon enough, staff and volunteers suited up and began the process of bathing each one.

Some dogs rescued from Katrina were not the friendliest animals, but Brutus wasn’t one of those dogs. Whenever the animal care staff came near, he’d greet them with a tail wag that sent his butt from side to side, almost losing his balance.

Brutus came to the shelter not only with a sunny disposition but also a critical piece of information: a rabies tag. The question was, how would staff trace it? The Southeast was in shambles, with no electricity and few phones, and tens of thousands of people had been scattered around the country. It didn’t look promising, but staff had to try.

They began as they always do, by calling the phone numbers on the tag. The voices on the other end were those of New Orleans animal control staff, still alive and well (or as well as could be expected), and able to provide the owner’s name, address, and phone number.

Staffers at the San Diego agency called the owner but got no answer and no machine. They sent a notice by mail, hoping it would be forwarded or kept at a general delivery location. Again, the chance of a reunion seemed slim.

But supervising animal care attendant Alison Kurtz, known for her tenacity, thought there had to be more they could do. Brutus was such a nice dog; she wanted to get him back where he belonged. Kurtz decided to go that extra mile. After contacting the Red Cross and FEMA to see if they could help, she got on the Web and searched for the owner’s name.

Her efforts paid off. On a website listing the names of people displaced by Katrina, she located a listing for a man named William Gugliuzza who’d been released from a hospital in Texas and was staying with relatives.

The hospital could not release any patient information, but Kurtz was not deterred. She turned to the Web again and found a Texas physician with the same last name. As luck would have it, the two Gugliuzzas were related.

After a few more phone calls, Kurtz finally succeeded in contacting the owner. Happy and relieved to hear about his dog, Gugliuzza very much wanted his Brutus back. When he and his girlfriend had tried to evacuate, he told Kurtz, the buses would not let them take their pets. So, like many other pet owners, they stayed. Soon the water forced the family to the roof, where a boat rescued Gugliuzza’s girlfriend while he remained with the animals. Finally, when Gugliuzza was evacuated by helicopter, he was forced to leave Brutus and the two cats. After the flooding subsided, he returned and found one cat still alive in the backyard and the other alive in the attic. But Brutus was nowhere to be found. Gugliuzza was devastated.

In the meantime on the West Coast, Brutus, who couldn’t contain his excitement whenever staff came near, was suffering from “happy tail syndrome.” His constant wagging against the kennel walls got the best of him, resulting in chronic trauma and bleeding. Because there is no way to bandage a long tail adequately, staff made the medical decision to amputate most of the tail. Brutus doesn’t have much tail left, but his butt still wags as if he did.

When Kurtz and Gugliuzza first spoke, Gugliuzza was living with his brother and still looking for a new home where he could have Brutus and his cats. About a month later, he found a place where he could keep his pets—with the help of Renee Harris, director of animal care with the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA. It was Harris who convinced Gugliuzza’s new landlord that Brutus, in spite of his 95 pounds, would be a great house dog.

Finally, on December 17, in front of staff and the press at the County of San Diego shelter, Gugliuzza was reunited with Brutus. It was an exciting and heartwarming event. Thanks to generous donors, the San Diego Humane Society paid all the expenses to reunite Gugliuzza and Brutus—and even to allow a one-day sightseeing tour of San Diego.

John Carlson is the regional director for the County of San Diego Department of Animal Services.


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