Ten years ago, a woman I barely knew saw the look of adoration on my face while I played with my dogs, and pegged me as a sucker for canines.

She was right.

So when she asked me to become a “foster mom” for Independent Animal Rescue, an organization she had recently founded, I said I’d think about it.

In the next few months, she put me in charge of Max, a neglected 2-year-old yellow Lab who was a bundle of happy energy despite the lousy situation he’d known all his life. And then Scoop, an adorable 10-week-old puppy whose mangled front leg was amputated after some kids threw him off a Durham roof. And then Shiloh, a small pile of scraggly fur and bones who’d lived his whole life chained to a woodpile.

Max was adopted by a great family with another Lab to play with. Scoop adapted to life on three legs with remarkable resilience and quickly found a permanent home with a teacher of special-needs children. Shiloh took a little longer. Even after he recovered physically from the abuse and neglect, Shiloh had, well, issues.

But as I’ve come to learn over a decade of fostering dozens of dogs from many varieties of lousy situations, there isn’t much that medical attention, food, exercise, a warm bed and lots of snuggling can’t cure if they’re offered consistently enough. Shiloh eventually learned to appreciate the human-canine bond, and claimed the hearts of a young Raleigh couple who let him sleep on their leather couch.

Animal rescue is a difficult business. The damage some humans do to other creatures is depressing to confront and hard, slow work to reverse, one dog or cat or rabbit or ferret or bird or iguana at a time. Worst of all, it’s bottomless. But the reason all of us crazy animal people keep doing it is the endgame, the happily-ever-after climax that makes it all worthwhile.

So among all the horrifying footage of human and animal suffering in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, animal rescuers have been watching a double nightmare: Animals who just days before basked in that beloved family pet status that we labor for have been ripped violently from their happily-ever-afters, often at the insistence of the authorities evacuating their devoted but helpless humans. They’ve been deposited in toxic floodwaters to fight for their lives, left to dehydration and starvation, drowning as they paddled, exhausted, toward people-rescuers who didn’t stop, or waited bewilderedly in their living rooms while Lake Pontchartrain closed in.

More than two weeks after the hurricane, thousands of animals–not just family pets but also livestock and wildlife–are still being pulled to safety. And now a whole new project begins: long-term, day-in, day-out housing, feeding and exercising, all while undertaking the Herculean task of reuniting pets with their families, or ultimately seeking new ones.

I can’t watch idly any more. On Sept. 23, my husband Bill and I are setting out in our old camper–hopefully filled with donated supplies for the animals and their human caretakers–to spend a week volunteering in Mississippi. We’ll do whatever needs doing, walking and feeding dogs, constructing temporary shelters, transporting animals to and fro.

You can help. The list of needs is long and ever-changing, but starts, of course, with money to buy gas, food and ongoing supplies that will be needed for a long, long time. The Humane Society of Louisiana updates their supplies requests regularly at www.humanela.org, so go there for suggestions. You can mail a check made out to Independent Animal Rescue (it’s tax-deductible) to me at P.O. Box 2252, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27515, or drop it off at the Indy office, 2810 Hillsborough Road, Durham. You can also bring supplies to the Indy office during business hours. E-mail me (jstrom@indyweek.com) to arrange drop-off in Raleigh or Chapel Hill or for more details.