Rover's Reunion -- A page one story generated from a press release

Katrina victim is reunited with his lost dog at Humane Society

By Michelle Munz

Tuesday, 10/4/2005

Page: A1

After Hurricane Katrina struck, the U.S. Coast Guard plucked Bobby Alberti, 59, and his dog Rover from a roof and took them to higher ground at the University of New Orleans.

Helicopters were on their way to the campus to fly people to Interstate 10, where buses would take them to shelters with food and medical care.

But dogs had to stay behind.

Alberti -- a small, thin man with fair skin and gray eyes -- would be among the first to go because of his age. He left Rover with a younger man who also had a dog, and they exchanged phone numbers, vowing to find where their dogs ended up.

Alberti had no idea the search would lead him to St. Louis, where the Humane Society of Missouri would end the quest.

But on the day he had to leave Rover in New Orleans, Alberti, who doesn't express emotion easily, was broken up.

Tears ran down his cheeks. He gave his mostly black Labrador Dalmatian mix a quick pat on the head. And while Rover was preoccupied with another dog, he quickly disappeared around a corner. He couldn't bear to look at him.

On the helicopter, guilt filled him. "Look what you did," Alberti recalled telling himself. "You gave up that dog."

For the last seven years, Rover had followed him wherever he went. The dog never left his side. Now, Alberti had betrayed his friend.

Like a family member

Growing up in New Orleans, Alberti always had a dog. They kept him company. Alberti's dad died when he was 12. His four brothers and sisters grew up and moved out. Alberti never married and lived with his mother until she died in 2003 at the age of 82.

For a while he tried to go without having a dog, but it didn't last. He didn't like being by himself.

Alberti got Rover for free through a newspaper advertisement. The dog grew up sitting by Alberti's recliner at night watching "Seinfeld" and "Everybody Loves Raymond."

Rover learned to wake his owner at 5 a.m. for work. He looked forward to weekend walks, and he was there for Alberti when his mom died. Rover filled the quiet moments that Alberti hated.

In late August, with Katrina approaching, Alberti's brother offered to take him to LaFayette, La. Alberti refused; he never left for hurricanes. His brother dropped off a life jacket.

That jacket may have saved Alberti's life as the floodwaters rose and filled his house. He never learned to swim. Yet he was able to get his two neighbors out of their houses, get a ladder and help them onto a nearby flat roof. All the while, an exhausted Rover insisted on paddling through the floodwaters beside Alberti.

Alberti couldn't get Rover up the ladder, so he hoisted the 80-pound dog on top of a broken piece of wooden fence. Rover floated on the debris while Alberti held onto his leash.

About a half-hour later, the Coast Guard arrived. Alberti refused to leave without Rover, and the crew agreed to take the dog.

During the two days at the University of New Orleans campus, there was no working water and little food and drink. What Alberti had, even cookies and fruit drinks, he shared with Rover.

After the tearful parting with his dog, Alberti was taken to a shelter in Houma, La. He stayed there two days until making his way to the Houston area, where two of his sisters live.

"That's my dog"

Despite having his family around him, Alberti often sat alone on the front porch and went on long walks.

"I don't care about the house. I don't care about anything," he told
his sisters. "I just want my dog."

Fran Alberti, Bobby's younger sister, spent hours searching through pictures and descriptions of missing dogs on the Internet. She took him on a seven-hour drive to Gonzales, La., where an equestrian center had been turned into a staging area for rescued animals. They looked for Rover's face among the hundreds of dogs, with no luck.

Fran didn't give up and kept searching the Internet.

Finally, she came across a possible match and yelled for her brotherg to come look at the picture. Alberti could tell it was Rover by the tiny black spot on his white chest. They learned he had been rescued on Sept. 21 near the university campus.

Fran asked Bobby if he was sure the dog was Rover.

"I oughtta know my own dog," he shot back. "That's my dog."

So they made the trip again to Gonzales, where Rover was reported to be. But again, no luck. A volunteer, noticing the Albertis were frustrated, started making calls. Within a few hours -- matching ID numbers rescued dogs had been given -- she learned that the Humane Society of Missouri had Rover in St. Louis.

A team from Missouri had been in the New Orleans area for 25 days and rescued more than 1,000 animals. On Sept. 24, the team was allowed to take 45 dogs back to St. Louis to relieve the crowding at the Gonzales shelter.

After learning they had Rover, Humane Society employees arranged for airfare and a hotel room at the Sheraton Inn in Clayton for Alberti and his sister.

The Albertis arrived Sunday and drove straight to the shelter on Macklind Avenue in St. Louis. They were led to a room as an employee went to get the dog.

Rover walked in the room and jumped on his owner, knocking him against the wall and licking his face.

Alberti managed to hold back his tears this time.

"Oh, I got you back," he said over Rover's excited panting. "I never thought I would get you back."

On Monday, the Albertis headed to the Humane Society again, where a tearful staff threw a party for the Albertis and Rover complete with cake, balloons and news reporters. Alberti seemed uncomfortable with it all.

"I just want my dog."