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Katrina dog documentary gets raves in Austin

For thousands of New Orleans pet owners who became separated from their pets during Hurricane Katrina, the pain still lingers, and a new documentary shows how deep and complicated the hurt can be.

Mine: Taken by Katrina, premiered at a film festival over the weekend in Austin, Texas and proved a crowd favorite.

The documentary highlights a few of the tens of thousand of animals who were displaced by Katrina, the dedicated volunteers who risked their lives to rescue them, the adoptive families that have taken these pets into their homes and the original owners who lost them — some of whom are still fighting for their custody.

Director Geralyn Pezanoski, herself the adopter of a Katrina animal, began documenting animal rescue efforts in New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina, and has followed the stories of several pets and animals over the last two years.

The documentary, which won the Audience Award for best documentary feature at last weekend’s South by Southwest film festival in Austin, has some heartwarming moments and some anguishing ones, such as those of pet owners still trying to reclaim their animals from adoptive homes that have grown to love them.

Those include a man named Malvin, who built his dog Bandit a new dog house next to his FEMA trailer — in case the dog’s adoptive parents in Pittsburgh ever agree to return the pooch. Another, Jesse James Pullins, a downtown hotel worker, was still mourning his separation from his Akita mix when he saw him show up on Cesar Millan’s The Dog Whisperer.

Like the aftermath of Katrina, the documentary is a testament to the intense bond between people and their pets. In this case though, those bonds are often shared by the guardians who lost their pets and want them back, and the well-meaning adoptive guardians who have taken them in, nursed them back to health and don’t want to part with them, even when the real owner surfaces.