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Lauren Keenan pauses to help Hurricane Katrina's smallest victims

RIVERHEAD, NY -- To say that Lauren Keenan is an animal lover would be an understatement.

While most 26-year-olds would probably choose to take a week's vacation sitting on a beach or partying in Florida or Mexico, Ms. Keenan drove to New Orleans last October to help rescue and take care of animals that were left homeless and ownerless in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Ms. Keenan, a sales representative for Fresh from the Start LLC, a division of ADS Management LLC, here, said that after hearing the news that people had stopped coming down to help with the enormous number of animals that were left to fend for themselves after the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, she and a friend decided to drive there to volunteer.

After driving nearly nonstop for a full weekend, Ms. Keenan said that they arrived in New Orleans to find the organization at which they planned to volunteer in disarray.

"At first it was confusing because we were trying to figure out how best we could help, and unfortunately the organization really didn't have its act together," she said.

Ms. Keenan said that they found their way to another group that had taken over a local Winn Dixie supermarket that became a large shelter and a place for reuniting animals with their owners.

"Once we found the right group, it was really rewarding," she said.

Ms. Keenan and her friend spend the next five days caring for the animals in the shelter and going out to local neighborhoods to feed animals that had not been brought to shelters.

"We were walking, feeding and washing the animals, playing with the kittens," she said.

Ms. Keenan said that the most rewarding experience of the trip was seeing animals reunited with their owners.

"One man came to get his Shiatsu, which was trapped in a bathroom for almost a month and by the time it was rescued, it lost most of its fur because it was malnourished," she said. "He was so happy to find him. It was cool to see. It was very heartwarming."

Of course, being the animal lover she is, Ms. Keenan could not leave the Big Easy without making life easier for a few animals as well. She returned to her home on eastern Long Island with three dogs, two of which were subsequently adopted and one, a Cairn Terrier, that she kept and named, quite appropriately, Dixie.

Dixie joined Ms. Keenan's extended family of five other dogs and three cats. When she is not enjoying the company of her four-legged companions, Ms. Keenan likes spending time with her friends and family and has recently started learning how to do decorative painting.

Ms. Keenan also enjoys her career in produce, where she began doing data entry at ADS Management as a summer job while attending the University of South Carolina.

After graduating from college and working for a year in a small satellite office located in Landover, MD, Ms. Keenan said that she wanted to be closer to her family and started to work out of the company's eastern Long Island office, where she has been working full time for the past five years.

She now handles the company's sales of Maine broccoli, cauliflower, imported asparagus and western vegetables.

"I dabble in everything that needs to be done," she said.

Ms. Keenan said that she enjoys working at Fresh from the Start and the ever- changing nature of the produce industry.

"I like the environment and how everyone works together," she said. "I think that I have learned a lot from the people here. I like how everything changes; you never know what you are going to walk into in the morning."

Ms. Keenan said that she has become "slowly involved" in the industry, which has been a help to her career because "people have gotten to know me over the years. I think it is good in a way to experience it now and take what I have learned into the future.

"When I tell people what I do for a living, they cannot believe that this is what I do," she continued. "They'll ask, 'Is that really a job?' The more involved I get, the more that I see that I can do so many different things. The opportunities are endless."