Boots, a 12-year-old golden retriever and chow chow mix rescued from 8 inches of murky waters during Hurricane Katrina, “pays it forward” every Wednesday by “nannying” kittens at the Arizona Humane Society.
Once a week, the senior gray-muzzled dog accompanies his owner Susan Juergensen, 47, to the animal shelter where he helps make 5-to-8-week-old kittens more adoptable by exposing them to new experiences – such as meeting dogs like himself! – at a young age.
“Boots loves coming into our kitten nursery program,” Arizona Humane Society spokesperson Bretta Nelson, 37, tells PEOPLE. “Kittens have a small window of time when their exposure to real-world dogs, in a positive manner, impacts them for the rest of their lives – making them more adaptable and adoptable.”
Boots starts by walking around the cages, sniffing the kittens. Depending on their reactions, society workers slowly introduce the kittens to him, where they climb on him, meow at him and, sometimes, even lick his face.
“Boots is such a distinguished and mild-mannered gentleman,” says Nelson. “These little kittens use him as a jungle gym – it’s so heartwarming. He’s a Katrina survivor, and he’s giving back to the animal world after his heartbreaking experiences.”
When Traci Pepper picked Boots up from an open field in downtown New Orleans in August of 2005, he was standing in almost 10 inches of black water “with foggy eyes and irate with bacteria.”
“He ducked his head down when we approached, but let us pick him up,” Pepper, an in-field trap and neuter return coordinator for the Arizona Humane Society, tells PEOPLE. “His paws were almost completely de-gloved, which means the skin was completely gone. We don’t even know how he was standing.”
The lovable mix, then 2 years old, was rushed to a makeshift shelter set up in a parking lot in Jefferson Parish to get his bloodied, raw paws repaired.
Boots was adopted weeks after Hurricane Katrina by a worker at the shelter who had helped change his bandages during the storm.
“There was just something in his eyes, he was so relieved – he captured my heart,” his owner, Susan Juergensen, tells PEOPLE. “It’s so cute; now when we go to the shelter he knows he’s working. I think he’s saying, ‘Finally these humans have realized my talent as a nanny and given me a job!’ ”