Life has been tough for Mr. Wiggles.

The sand-colored pit bull was found this fall by rescuers in an abandoned crack house in New Orleans. At the time, he was wearing a 24-karat gold collar, and cuts from broken crack pipes scarred his feet. Hurricane Katrina had chased away his owners, who left him to guard the house.

Months later and hundreds of miles away, Mr. Wiggles has a new mission: He must look cute and snag a new owner.

Mr. Wiggles is among the last dozen dogs still looking for a home out of the 64 dogs the Humane Society of Calvert County rescued from the Gulf region after Katrina. They have spent weeks at the group's animal shelter in Sunderland -- barking, playing, recovering and, most of all, waiting.

Plenty of people looking to adopt have walked through the kennel but passed over these last 12. The puppies and purebreds are always the first to go. But this month, the kennel's staff stepped up their efforts, holding special adoption days for the remaining Katrina dogs, highlighting their stories and dressing them up.

Some of the dogs have been adorned with Christmas-themed bandanas, a sartorial strategy aimed at upping their cuteness factor. Mr. Wiggles has been given a special red-knit sweater to make him look less intimidating.

Part of his life story is told by his cropped ears -- cut short by former owners probably hoping to make him look like a fierce fighter. But as Mr. Wiggles lazes on the shelter's concrete floor, his wrinkled brow and quiet manner make him seem more like an old, wise man.

"He's a cute dog. Aren't you a cute one, Mr. Wiggles," said Abby Bell-Mills, a board member for the Humane Society. As if in answer, the pit bull furrowed his wrinkled brow even more and panted.

"I told you he was cute," she said.

Bell-Mills led the band of Calvert animal advocates who drove to the Gulf Coast in September to rescue the 64 dogs.

Just a few days after Katrina struck, she rented a recreational vehicle, hitched a trailer to it and headed south. The next day, she and four others from the Calvert Humane Society arrived in Tylertown, Miss., about 90 miles outside New Orleans, and worked for 36 hours with rescuers in an emergency shelter.

They bathed newly rescued animals in decontaminating chemicals, fed them and built pens for them out of chain-link fencing.

Most of the dogs arrived at the emergency shelter frightened and exhausted. Some had been swimming for hours. Others had paws that were shredded when the dogs tried to cling to the tops of air-conditioning units and other spots above floodwaters for hours. Many had fungal infections from exposure to stagnant water.

"They were in terrible shape," Bell-Mills said. "I can't tell you the amount of deaths we saw."

One dog, she said, was terrified of water after escaping the flood and yelped when rescuers tried to bathe him.

When the Calvert volunteers left Tylertown, they took dogs that other groups wouldn't.

"We're a no-kill shelter," Bell-Mills said. "So we took animals we knew would have a harder time."

The rescuers keep a photo album of their trip at the front desk of the Sunderland shelter. Flipping through it, kennel manager Angela Bentley said she was haunted weeks later by one of the dogs she couldn't take with her.

"We called him Petie," she said, pointing to a picture of a white pit bull with black patches. Like many of the dogs, Petie was thin when rescuers found him. In the photo, his ribs, spine and even the bones in his tail are visible.

Of the dogs the group did bring back, most have fully recovered. They are fed two meals a day and doted on by the kennel's staff.

Kristy Horrocks, 21, a part-time staffer at the kennel, does a lot of the feeding. She mixes in wet food with the dry kibble to give it more taste.

"If you give them just the dry, they'll look at you like, 'What are you thinking?' " she said with a laugh.

For months now, Horrocks and others at the shelter have tried to play matchmaker, pointing out certain Katrina dogs to prospective owners. But if all of them do find homes, Horrocks said, she will miss them.

"It's hard," she said. "You get attached. You can't help it."

Jeremy Crawford of North Beach applied to adopt Rodeo, a mixed breed dog. Rodeo gets a kiss from Abby Bell-Mills of the Humane Society. Rocky, a pit bull mix, is available for adoption at Fishing Creek Kennel in Sunderland.