NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ John Chambers was afraid Lynell Zelenka might skip town before paying him the $12,000 in back rent he claims she owes. So he got a court order to seize her property - including her pets, Iris the dog and Whitehill the cat.

Especially her pets.

''They are just like my children and this is just like someone kidnapping my children and holding them hostage for ransom,'' said Zelenka, 31. ''I think I'll do anything they want.''

Chambers said he knew how much his tenant loved the animals, and that's why he took advantage of a Louisiana statute that considers pets chattel.

''There's no intention to do anything that's going to hurt the dog and cat. I take a back seat to no one in liking animals,'' said Chambers.

Zelenka, who claims she only owes $6,000 in back rent on her three-bedroom carriage house apartment, said the debt began piling up more than a year ago when she hurt her back.

Chambers let the payments slide while Zelenka awaited the outcome of a lawsuit stemming from the injury. But Zelenka settled the lawsuit for less than she had hoped for and didn't tell her landlord, Chambers said.

When Chambers heard the lawsuit was over, he said he thought Zelenka might try to leave town and decided to take her pets.

Zelenka came home Wednesday to find her car, furniture, books, hair dryer - everything she owned but her personal papers and the stuff in the refrigerator - gone. The note on her door said the Orleans Parish Civil Sheriff's Office had taken her possessions and her pets.

Zelenka rescued her pets from a veterinarian, but 20 minutes after she got them home, sheriff's deputies returned and confiscated them again. That time the dog and cat were taken to a pound.

''I asked if they could arrest me and leave the animals alone,'' she said, but the deputies refused.

Zelenka, a court-document specialist, said she wants to pay Chambers what she can, but doesn't have the money. She says she has a job in Pittsburgh, but can't move until her dog and cat are free.

Iris, a 7-year-old Saluki ''with a face like the Lone Ranger,'' and Whitehill, an 11-year-old cat, are her best friends and consume her every thought, she said.

''At least I got her attention,'' said Chambers.