Hundreds Of Dogs And Cats Are Evacuating Storm-Hit Florida In Search Of Homes

Shelters are overwhelmed with animals in Irma’s wake, including some found tied up outside in the hurricane.

Nearly 200 dogs and cats are heading to new lives in the Northeast this week after being pulled from storm-hit shelters in South Florida where four-legged refugees are continuing to pour in needing homes, authorities there say.

At Palm Beach International Airport, a van full of cats and three city buses filled with dogs pulled onto the tarmac Wednesday morning. Animal rescue workers hoped the animals would be able to board a flight to shelters in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

The flight, funded by the ASPCA and performed by Wings of Rescue, was one of several slated this week by Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control and the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League of West Palm Beach.

Hundreds Of Animals Await Evacuation From Florida's Storm-Hit Shelters

“By moving these animals out, it’s definitely going to allow us some more space to help the new pets coming in,” Elizabeth Harfmann, community outreach manager for PBC Animal Care and Control, told HuffPost. She stressed that they started running out of shelter space before Irma even made landfall.

“We had close to 100 that came in before the storm,” she said, noting there were “people just bringing them into the shelter because they were evacuating and not taking their pets with them.”

In the other instances, animals were found abandoned outside their homes, some tied to trees or cars.

Donna, a Great Dane, is called over for a group shot in front of the plane.
Donna, a Great Dane, is called over for a group shot in front of the plane.

“So we had to send a whole team of officers out to round up dogs and cats that were left behind,” she said.

Fortunately for anyone who lost a pet during the storm, their pet should still be in local shelters for pick-up.

“When [animal shelters] see a storm coming, they want to get in, pull animals out of the shelters that are already ready for adoption, so that lost pets have a place to go for people to come get them,” said Rich Anderson, executive director of Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League.

That lesson was learned following Hurricane Katrina, when pets lost in the storm were rounded up and moved out of state, he said.

“The people not only lost their homes, but they also lost their pets,” Anderson said. “So today, you see everybody’s effort is to keep the lost animals in their community so that they can be reunited with their families.”

On Wednesday, only 29 dogs were able to fit on the plane. None of the cats were able to snag a seat.

The workers had expected to fit more animals during their first flight on Wednesday, they said, but the larger dogs’ crates took up more room than expected.

Dogs prepare to fly northeast after being evacuated out of South Florida shelters
Dogs prepare to fly northeast after being evacuated out of South Florida shelters

Workers remained determined, however, and on Thursday morning they managed to get 91 cats and 10 dogs on a flight to the New Hampshire SPCA and Second Chance Animal Shelter in Massachusetts. Another flight planned for Friday is expected to move around 30 dogs and 15 cats to a shelter in New York. 

Meanwhile, areas outside Florida are welcoming the animals, with both temporary and permanent homes.

In Duncan, South Carolina, where the ASPCA set up an emergency shelter for animals affected by the storms, Tim Rickey, vice president of ASPCA Field Investigation and Response, said they expect to take in 300 to 350 animals on Wednesday and Thursday alone.

Two dogs wait inside of a city bus on Wednesday.
Two dogs wait inside of a city bus on Wednesday.

“I expect that number to grow pretty rapidly,” he told HuffPost. “Our animals relocation team has been working around the clock trying to get as many animals out of harm’s way.”

He said one of the ASPCA’s biggest challenges during such a crucial time is the emotional toll it takes on workers.

“This has been a bit of a mental overload for everybody,” he said. “We put a lot of effort into the Hurricane Harvey response and typically you’re able to take a breather before you are able to shift focuses, but we weren’t able to do that.”

Harfmann echoed that stress, describing their round-the-clock work to take in animals, find foster homes, locate planes and compile paperwork.

“Lots of coffee. Lots of Starbucks runs,” she said. “But it’s worth it. It’s super exciting for us. It’s worth the no sleep.”

Anyone wanting to help donate to the ASPCA’s efforts can do so through their website. Rickey stressed the need for monetary donations, which allow them to purchase specific items they need right away.

An Amazon shopping list has also been set up by PBC Animal Control, listing various animal crates and collars needed for their animals. And you can donate to Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League’s hurricane efforts here.