Shelley Bovero will never forget the day she first saw the skinny, scared puppy.
"She was scrawny with lacerations on her arms," recalls the Jacksonville resident. "She only weighed nine pounds. You could see her backbone and ribs.
"Then I went over to her and looked into her eyes," she says.
Anyone who loves dogs can tell you about the fate of anyone who peers into the big eyes of a small puppy. Shelley Bovero was hopelessly smitten.
That was two years and nearly 40 pounds ago. The pooch now weighs a happy, healthy 48 pounds.
As you no doubt surmised, Mardi Gras has a connection to New Orleans. In fact, she is a survivor of Hurricane Katrina that slammed into the Big Easy on Aug. 29, 2005.
"Mardi Gras is a huge gift to us," Shelley Bovero says. "She is filled with unconditional love. She brings joy to everyone in the family."
With each anniversary of Katrina, the Bovero family — husband Ken and their children Mackenzie, 15; Taylor, 12; and Courtney, 7 — make a point of giving Mardi Gras a few more hugs and kisses than her already ample daily dose.
They can only guess about the terrors she faced in that hurricane with its screaming winds and deadly storm surge from which the Crescent City has yet to recover.
They know we need to continue caring about the humans whose lives were upended by Katrina. They know that lessons learned from that disaster should be used to help state and federal governments improve their responses to future natural catastrophes.
But they also knew adopting the pooch was one way to make a difference. The chances of reuniting the skinny puppy with its owners was beyond remote.
They are also dog lovers who would probably subscribe to what U.S. Sen. George Graham Vest, a great orator from Missouri, said in 1884 about our pooches:
"The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog," he said. "... When riches take wings, and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens."
OK, so that could be just a tad over the top. But you get the point. Their love, as Shelley reminds us, is unconditional.
The Boveros were living in Mill Valley, Calif., when Shelley heard on radio station KGO about 80 rescued Katrina dogs being flown to animal shelters in the Bay Area. The Sept. 14, 2005, report mentioned some of the dogs were being taken to the Humane Society shelter in Marin County.
"I skipped work and made a beeline for Marin," she recalls. Her plan was to find a cute little fluffy ankle-biter similar to Scruffy, her toy poodle who had lived to a ripe old age.
"But no one was paying attention to this little thing," she says of Mardi Gras. "She was so thin and sparse she looked like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree."
Naturally, the children were excited about adopting the dog. But Ken was a bit reticent about the prospect.
"He was apprehensive," Shelley acknowledges.
But, like his wife, Ken was quickly felled by puppy love.
"Now we catch him with the dog outside — they play in the water all the time," Shelley says with a laugh. "And she'll ride along the side of a Skidoo with Ken and his friends. He loves her, too.
"Yeah, he just doesn't like to admit it," Mackenzie offers.
The Boveros, who were in New Orleans visiting a relative a year before Katrina hit, say there are hints Mardi Gras remembers the hurricane.
"Whenever we are on the freeway the sound of the wind reminds her of the hurricane," Taylor says. "She runs from the back, up to the front and gets on my lap.
"And when we had that big thunder and lightning storm in July, she was hiding under the bed the whole time," Mackenzie says.
Based on a veterinarian's estimate, they figure she was born in June, just three months before the hurricane hit.
When she was found, the dog was in poor health with burned pads on her feet, Shelley observes.
"We got so many bad looks when we first got her," Mackenzie says, noting that people thought the dog wasn't being fed properly.
Now they just get admiring looks. Mardi Gras may be a mongrel but a mere glance from her beautiful caramel eyes would make a monk weep.
She also keeps the Boveros in stitches with her antics. You have to laugh when Taylor cocks her hand and exclaims "Bang!" Mardi Gras rolls over and plays dead. When you say, "Give me five," she promptly offers a paw.
"She'll get up on her back feet and start walking, too," Taylor says. "And she jumps through Hula Hoops."
The pooch that survived Katrina will even blow out the candles on a birthday cake, Shelley says.
"She's awesome — she's part of the family now," she adds.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or at email@example.com