| By Emily Williams
One year after Katrina’s wrath, a Louisiana man and his very large dog will depart this week from their temporary home in Panola County.
Ron and Suzanne Cooper Denley, of Turtle Creek Drive in Panola County, have offered hospitality – and their guest house – to Vernon Lavel and his 115-pound malamute, Kenai, for the past year.
Soon after the storm, Vernon and Kenai had landed in Batesville and found the facilities at South Panola Veterinary Hospital where Katrina pets were being cared for.
"I heard they had been boarding pets from Katrina, so I went to the vet’s office to see what I could do to help," said Ron Denley.
Denley was told at the vet’s office that everything was under control, and "that ?s when I asked if they knew of anyone that I could help."
"They said someone just left shortly before I got there."
That is when he saw Vernon Lavel walking Kenai, and offered assistance.
Ron and Suzanne both work for Delta Airlines and travel a lot, but wanted to help by letting Vernon stay in their guest house.
"They have taken me in like family," said Vernon.
"Especially her mother (Tina Cooper)."
"She helps take care of Kenai when we are out of town," said Ron.
"It has been a family effort to take care of Kenai," added Suzanne.
Vernon will be returning to Louisiana and living in Breaux Bridge in a house contractors have almost finished building.
Last week he described the sequence of events that brought him from his home in Chalmette, La. to Panola County a year ago.
Vernon said he and family members evacuated a day before the storm hit.
"My mother rode with my aunt because she didn’t want to ride with the dog."
Left behind was Vernon’s "prize 1977 blue Corvette Stingray," a vehicle too small to accommodate Kenai, he said.
"It was a choice, the car or the dog. I thought the car would be there when I got back," he said.
"I packed the dog and a few things and we just headed north and I ended up in Hattiesburg thinking that I was far enough north, but then the storm actually went over Hattiesburg," he said.
"I found a veterinary office that looked fairly new and it was getting late in the evening. They didn’t want to board him at first."
Vernon said it was hard finding a hotel room.
"So I found a dingy little motel room and the storm passed over and it demolished the motel."
He said when he went back to get his dog at the vet’s office he couldn’t find the building.
"I knew it was only a mile or two away from the motel, so I turned around and realized when I looked across the highway that the building was flat."
He said a tornado hit the building and demolished it.
Vernon said when he found the vet, the veterinarian asked, "What kind of dog do you have?"
"I said, ?the big malamute!’"
He said the dog was still there. He was still in a cage, though the roof was gone.
Leaving the vet with Kenai, he decided to get back on the highway to find a hotel room.
"I got to Batesville, and a lot of hotels were booked, but I found an opening at the Ramada."
After being "adopted" by the Denleys last fall, Vernon found himself infected with football fever.
Though he had never heard of Batesville, he did know the South Panola Tigers.
"He went to every game last year including state," said Suzanne.
"It was fun following a team that was undefeated," said Vernon.
"The people of Batesville have been very nice to me."