Pets & Animals

Paw it forward: Dog who survived Hurricane Katrina calms shelter kittens

Nearly a decade after Arizona Humane Society volunteers saved a dog named Boots from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he is giving back in his own way: helping kittens get cozy at a Phoenix nursery.

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Back in 2005, the Chow-Golden Retriever mix was among some 300 animals the AHS Emergency Animal Medical Technicians saved in Louisiana after the hurricane devastated the region. At the time, the pup was about 2 years old.

“His paws were so ripped up,” Bretta Nelson, a spokeswoman for the humane society, told TODAY.com. “He had (such) intense burns on his paws that he needed medical attention — hence, how he got the name Boots.”

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Although some 60 of those 300 rescued animals were reunited with their owners, Boots was not among that lucky group. Thankfully, he still had a few fans. “Our shelter staff absolutely fell in love with him,” Nelson said.

An EAMT volunteer named Susan Juergensen fostered and later adopted Boots, who wound up getting along with her cats at her home in Phoenix.

“Her dog, here in Arizona, happened to pass away,” Nelson said. “So, for her, the story has really come full circle.”

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Since then, Boots has embraced the spirit of making animals feel more comfortable, as he’s taken his talents to AHS’ new kitten nursery, which opened in May and cares for kittens who are between 5 and 8 weeks old.

Four weeks ago, Boots was called into action to help the youngest kittens acclimate to potential canine companions. Well-behaved cats, of course, have a better shot at being adopted.

“Kittens have a very small window of time, when they’re growing up — from the 2-week to 7-week age range — in which the things they are exposed to are going to positively impact them for the rest of their life,” Nelson said.

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A feline welfare specialist, Liz Truitt was part of the AHS rescue team that headed to Louisiana after Katrina. Based on what she’d heard about Boots’ comfort level with cats at Juergensen’s home, she figured he’d be a good fit for the nursery.

Truitt told TODAY.com she hadn’t seen Boots for almost a decade when he reported for weekly cat-sitting duty last month.

“It’s fun to see him again after so many years,” she said. “He’s been an unofficial nanny for us. When he came into the nursery, he was the perfect dog for this role, because he’s so laid-back. He doesn’t care about what the kittens [do]. He doesn’t get excited. He doesn’t get in their face. He just basically lets them come to him on their terms. It’s the perfect first interaction with a dog for these guys.”

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Truitt said Boots may be a little older now, but his pleasant demeanor hasn’t changed a bit since they met in Louisiana nearly 10 years ago.

“He’s the sweet little dog he’s always been,” Truitt added. “He just has a few extra gray hairs.”

Nelson added that Boots’ human companions couldn’t be prouder.

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“With Boots, it’s that old [saying] of ‘Who rescued who?’” she said. “With Boots, he’s truly paying it forward.”

Follow TODAY.com writer Chris Serico on Twitter.

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