In the wake of Katrina, a better, brighter animal shelter

The Humane Society of South Mississippi is a testament to the resiliancy of southern gulf coast residents.

Less than a year after Hurricane Katrina wiped out homes and hope, the Gulport, Miss. shelter was rebuilt through a single donation of $1 million and a matching $1 million raised in the surrounding community.

Donations, along with proceeds from an on-site pet store and thrift shop, help the not-for-profit survive.

It's a clean and cheerful place where cats in cages line the hallways and dogs share large wire kennels with a friend.

I was happy to see the shelter adopts out friendly, well-adjusted pit bulls, since one-third to two-thirds of dogs that find their way to shelters in most areas of the country are full or part pit bull and for that reason alone, often euthanized.

Adoption Supervisor Timothy Sartin says he has three of his own IMG_5147and does what he can for the breed.

Recently, an all-white, deaf pit bull made the humane society a donation of its own.

Gunther, formerly known as Ghost, won the ASPCA's "Adopt-a-Bull" contest, bringing in $9,000 that went straight back to his buddies at the shelter. He has been adopted.

Go here to view the shelter's donation wish list.

It's just $75 to adopt a dog over six months of age that has been fixed, microchipped and received necessary shots. The dogs have all undergone behavioral evaluations and come with a free month of pet insurance and an educational DVD. Puppies are $95.

The clinic also hosts several free rabies vaccination and microchipping clinics in gulf coast communities each year.

A much-needed community paper

To keep people informed after Hurricane Katrina, a locally owned biweekly paper called The Sea Coast Echo gave out issues for free.

The Bay St. Louis paper has had layoffs, though they were linked more to the the depression that started four years ago. Comparatively, the national recession was a ripple in the bucket.

RaNDY“We're hanging in pretty well,” says editor and publisher Randy Ponder. “Revenue is pretty steady. Our circulation numbers are a bit higher than we were 'pre-K' — pre-Katrina,” he decodes for me.

Ponder echoes what I've heard from other community papers: People still want news about their hometown and the Internet isn't yet a great source for that.

The Sea Coast Echo doesn't run national news, anymore.

“That's all we are is a local community newspaper and we are doing quite well because we have a product that no one else has,” says Ponder.

Two full-time and two part-time reporters, a news editor and a publisher emeritus, cover all the typical issues. Reporters have been snapping the photos in the paper for more than a decade.

The paper competes for circulation with the Biloxi SunHerald and The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. But Ponder says when it comes to consumer choice, the two bigger papers often cancel each other out.

Given three choices, residents of Hancock County, where Bay St. Louis is located, often opt for the smaller paper.

And since the paper has never had much national, real estate or auto advertising, it didn't notice a huge dip when those companies slashed expenses.

Four years after the storm


In Bay St. Louis, Miss. – 20 minutes west of Biloxi and an hour northeast of New Orleans – a woman living with her dog in an RV is not that out of the ordinary.

This is where the eye of Hurricane Katrina touched down in August 2005, causing more devastation than any recorded before her in the country.

Miles of sandy beaches and nary a tourist greet me in early November. Posts from decimated houses sit like forgotten bones.

For every grocery store, restaurant, bait stand and gas station, two or three are closed indefinitely.

The quiet is a vacation after Florida's coast line, Boston, Manhattan.

It's a sad quiet, though, like a ghost town.

Locals still talk about the aftermath.

Bodies, vehicles, and people's belongings were strewn like litter.

People slept wherever they could. The street lights were out and you could see the stars.

The insects were terrible. It was hot and humid.

Pet dogs roamed the city in packs.

Men reverted to instinct, too.

In New Orleans, where the levees broke, there was violence and looting. But here crime was kept mostly in check by the National Guard.

Store employees gave away food and toiletries.

A.J. Sconza, 59, and his wife Patricia, 68, were working the closing shift at Wal-Mart the afternoon before the hurricane.

Aj A.J. waited for Patricia to check out the final customers, so they could drive to a relative's home further inland. By the time she finished, they realized there wasn't time.

They drove to their small one-story home in Bay St. Louis to ride out the storm.

"The wind was so loud, we had to yell to each other to talk. And then the water came in," says A.J., tears forming in his eyes.

In less than an hour, it went from a tiny pool he tried to sweep away to 4 1/2 feet above the living room floor.

"And my wife can't swim. She's tiny. I hugged her and I kissed her and I said, 'Good bye. We ain't gonna make it. I love you and I'll see you in Heaven.'"

But the water stopped.

It wasn't their time.

Days later A.J. dedicated his life to God and more than four years later is an

active member of Calvary Chapel, where he helps whoever and whenever he can.

"I dont have no regrets, I'm just full of joy. I've been in and out of jobs, but

I'm not worried about it because the Lord gonna take care of me," he says.

"I've heard of so much death since we've been here,” says Andrea Langham, Andrea who moved to the area with her husband Kris from Huntington Beach, Calif. a couple years ago. Kris is the church's pastor.

“And it's not just older people. It's drugs and suicide,” she continues. “So, there's still a lot of hurt here."

The Langhams were among those who came in teams organized by a group of Calvary Chapel pastors. They fed people three meals a day under a circus tent set up in a Bay St. Louis ball field.

The meals and sermons went on for about a year after the storm. Then restaurants began to reopen and the city asked the church to stop.

Church member Stephanie Luxich, 52, a lifelong resident of Bay St. Louis, population 6,000, remembers those days.Stephanie

She lost her apartment in the hurricane and has lived in transitional settings, doing a variety of temporary work.

She also recalls how a decade before the storm, the now quiet city had started to boom. People bought property sight unseen. With its small-town charm and uncluttered beaches, Bay St. Louis was the new place to be. Real estate prices skyrocked.

Since then, about a third of the population has left.

"I always thought I was going to die here,” says Luxich. “But then Katrina changed everything. Nothing is forever.”

Luxich has learned to appreciate blessings amid the chaos – such as the year she spent in a 450-square-foot FEMA-issue cottage with sea green interior and crown molding.

She had it placed at the edge of her niece's property, near the water.

“I'd always wanted to live on the beach,” she says. “I couldn't afford it.”

"When you've been through a lot of stuff, it's just too much effort to stress about things," she adds. "He (God) has provided me with exactly what I need."