Katrina cat and owner reunited in Kings Beach | SierraSun.com

Katrina cat and owner reunited in Kings Beach

Andrew Pridgen
Sun News Service

Emma Garrard/Sun News ServiceTami Hupin holds up her cat,Lucy, after they were reunited at Agate Bay Animal Hospital Monday afternoon. Hupin and Lucy were separated duing Hurricane Katrina last August.

A cat and her “mother” we’re reunited in Kings Beach Monday afternoon after almost a year apart.

But this is no ordinary pet rescue and reunion story ” this is the type of thing that Disney movies are made of ” that, at least, according to one of four network camera operators that descended upon Dr. Bree Montana’s Agate Bay Animal Hospital at 2 p.m.

It was there Tammy Hupin, a 36-year-old New Orleans-based court reporter, and her mixed breed of white and gray medium-length coat, Lucy.

Haupin pulled up in a large, black SUV driven by Noah’s Wish director of communications, Jennifer McKim. With cameras rolling, the estranged pet owner climbed out of the passenger seat and began calling for her beloved feline.

“Lu-cy… Lucy Loo,” she said as the on-site network reporters side-stepped.

While the orchestrated reunion would come to fruition on the lawn of the Agate Bay veterinary center moments later, Haupin was first greeted by Dr. Montana. The two embraced.

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“Are you excited?” asked Montana almost rhetorically, brushing a tear from her cheek. “We are.

“This is all we could think about.”

One week ago, Dr. Montana’s assistant Jane Barnard received a call from a woman with a lilting southern accent.

“It was just a normal morning, and this woman with the sweetest accent was on the other line,” Barnard recalled. “She introduced herself and then kind of paused…

“I asked her if I could help her and she said, ‘maybe you have one of my cats’; I (realized) what it was about and started to cry, then she started to cry ” then I put the phone on hold and told (everyone) in the back (of the office) and they started to cry.”

Last October, Dr. Montana, in a partnership with Noah’s Wish ” a nonprofit pet rescue foundation based in El Dorado Hills, Calif. ” traveled to Slidell, Louisiana to work at a temporary animal shelter where displaced pet owners surrendured their animals in the weeks immediately following the storm, or strays were plucked from the attics and treetops of the flooded region.

“It was amazing, it was a nighmare,” Montana recalled of her trip to the deep South. “(The animals) were basically stored in a warehouse with no air conditioning, we were working non-stop soaked in sweat. As I approached the temporary shelter for the first time, I asked if there was a rock concert going on ” it was so loud; the animals were so shocked, frightened ” displaced.”

Montana described her week in Slidell acting as triage for the marooned animals as “one of the hardest” in her professional career.

She was able to bring back one cat; simutaneously, Incline Village’s Pet Network also worked with Noah’s Wish and Kanab, Utah- based Best Friends Animal Society to bring several Katrina cats and dogs to the area for adoption; most have since found homes.

A few weeks after Dr. Montana returned from the storm’s epicenter, she received a call from a Noah’s Wish official.

The makeshift Louisiana shelter, one Dr. Montana described as “hell”, was about to be shut down and the remaining, unrescued animals were to be euthanized.

“I thought about it for a minute,” Dr. Montana said. “and I said, ‘I can take some cats.'”

Soon, 20 felines were flown via commercial airline to Sacramento, and Montana’s husband, Bill West loaded the cats in the vet’s van and soon the hospital’s pet shelter (Ember’s Kitty Rescue) was flush with lost, diseased and confused cats.

“They all needed shots, and tests… many were ill, or shocked ” it was a tough few weeks,” Dr. Montana recalled. “I have to thank my staff for putting in the effort.”

One by one, the cats were vaccinated and nursed back to health. One by one they were adopted out ” each finding a new home and family in the Tahoe basin.

Early this month, only four cats were left ” Lucy (since named “Jambalya” by the crew at Agate Bay) was one of them.

“She was just the sweetest kitty,” vet assistant Barnard said. “She was always first to the door to (greet) us.”

…The accomodating feline turned skeptical during her reunion Hupin.

Clad in a sequined “I Love Lucy” shirt, Hupin cradled her beloved cat for the first time in 11 months as cameramen surrounded her and zoomed in. Both cat and owner turned away from one another as the bittersweet moment turned tense.

Hupin was flooded with questions whether finding her cat would bring a piece of her life before the storm.

She answerd skeptically as her Lucy squirmed.

“A little piece, maybe,” Haupin said and then whispered “…this is all a little surreal.”

Once the cameras stopped rolling, Lucy was taken back to her cat sanctuary and Hupin was granted some much-needed time alone to get reaquainted.

“She probably won’t respond to you right away,” instructed Dr. Montana. “She’s been scarred through this, just like you have ” so it’s going to take awhile. But she will have an imprint of you, it may come through smell, what you feed her. She will remember.”

Hupin was concerned about Lucy’s transition living once more with other animals in her household.

“She’ll probably warm up to (them),” Dr. Montana said. “But keep them separate at first. Cats are like families at Thanksgiving, reunions can get a little heated ” just give it time.”

Hupin, who has been living in a one-bedroom apartment in Austin, Texas ” will relocate Oct. 1 back to New Orleans. Her three-bedroom home east of downtown has been vacant sice the storm. She will decide this fall whether to sell it or fix it up.

“For now, we’re moving up-town,” Hupin said. “I’m going to get back to work, get settled ” and we’ll go from there.”

Hupin and Dr. Montana exchanged a final hug before Lucy and owner were to get back in the SUV for the drive down to Sacramento ” they would leave for Austin Tuesday morning.

“We’ve never had this kind of reunion before,” Noah’s Wish spokeswoman McKim said. “It’s unreal.”

Hupin reflected for a brief moment away from the media onslaught.

“I had to surrender Lucy with five others,” Hupin lamented. “I thought they had the best chances of being adopted. I contacted Noah’s Wish to make sure they got good homes.

“I never thought I’d be one of them.”