When Jennifer Roberts first spotted him, the brown-and-white Labrador mix was clinging to a chain-link fence in a back yard that had become a lake.
The dog was trembling from fatigue and cold. "You could tell he was . . . about to go," she said. "You could see the look in his eyes."
Like hundreds of other pets and farm animals in and around Kinston, N.C., the dog was left behind when the flood waters of Hurricane Floyd came rampaging through the area this month, forcing residents to flee for their lives.
That's when Roberts came to the rescue, literally. The Fairfax County police animal control officer was one of about 20 trained rescuers who went to North Carolina to search for the "forgotten victims," as Roberts calls them.
Roberts and her colleagues with the Denver-based American Humane Association plucked more than 300 animals--cats and dogs, bunnies, roosters, cows, a turtle and even a duck--from water polluted by raw sewage, dead livestock and fuel.
"When people are evacuated, usually they aren't allowed to take their animals," said Roberts, 32, who was in North Carolina for eight days. "There's only so much room on a boat, and most shelters don't accept animals. People are getting out with just the clothes on their back."
Among those the group rescued were a pit bull that had climbed into a kitchen cabinet to escape high water, cats and dogs perched on window air-conditioning units or floating patio furniture, and chickens that sought safety on a trailer roof.
Many of the animals had gone without food and fresh water for days; even so, they didn't necessarily greet their rescuers warmly.
"The majority of the cats were like a ball of fur and razors," Roberts said, noting that two firefighters and a National Guardsman were bitten during would-be rescues.
The Labrador easily released his hold on the fence when rescuers approached, and was tucked into a crate until he could be examined by a veterinarian. But another dog, which had taken refuge on floating wooden steps, jumped into the water as the rescue boat approached.
Roberts sensed the pooch was fading fast. As a steady current pushed the boat closer, she feared the dog would be swept under. "I knew I only had one chance," she recounted. In one swift movement, she reached out with a wooden catch pole, snared the dog's neck and heaved it into the boat.
Tom Taylor, a former Vienna animal control officer who also volunteered in North Carolina, was able to reunite three dogs and three cats with their owners, who had been forced to leave the pets behind in their trailer, with just a few feet of dry land around it.
"There was no food, no fresh water and the [flood] water was expected to rise again," said Taylor, 28. "The owner and her children were there when we returned the [pets], and there were tears of joy."
Not every story ended happily.
Twenty-six piglets the group moved to high ground were washed away later. And the rescuers had to leave behind some frightened dogs that dove off porches into the mucky water and seemed unlikely to return.
Roberts and Taylor, part of a nationwide network of volunteers the humane association calls on during disasters, trained for three days in July on the Potomac River, practicing water and cliff rescues. The association, which also rescued pets during recent flooding in Colorado and tornadoes in Oklahoma, started its animal rescue program during World War I to help injured cavalry horses.
Although they go out to save the animals, rescuers say it's the owners that they are really helping. "Some of those people have lost everything, and hopefully knowing that they have their cat or dog will be some comfort," said Roberts, who has three dogs, three cats and two rats at home.
But even though she loves animals, Roberts wasn't prepared to save all creatures great and small that she came across in Kinston.
"There were bugs that looked like mutants," she said. "Grasshoppers the size of your hand, fire ants and spiders. There were water moccasins fighting with each other to get in the boat."
CAPTION: Jennifer Roberts spent eight days helping to rescue stranded pets and farm animals in flood-ravaged Kinston, N.C.