More than 70% of the shelters serving Florida closed
Hurricane Irma forced more than 70% of the humane society and animal control shelters serving Florida to either close for at least one day when they normally would have been open, but just over half––55%––were open again within 72 hours, according to two ANIMALS 24-7 surveys of social media postings from 58 shelters.
The first ANIMALS 24-7 survey was done one day after Hurricane Irma swept the length of the state on September 10, 2017; the second was done three days later.
More than a third suffered storm damage
The social media surveys also indicated that 36% of the shelters suffered significant storm damage, but none lost any animals to causes directly associated with Hurricane Irma.
In preparation for Hurricane Irma, at least 28% of the shelters had evacuated all or most of the animals from their premises, either to make room for an anticipated influx of lost or abandoned animals, or in anticipation that the shelter facilities might be flooded. This compared closely to the temporary evacuation of about 30% of the human population of Florida.
About one Florida shelter in four either held animals temporarily for displaced people, or helped other community service organizations to operate temporary animal shelters at or near the locations of temporary shelters for human storm victims.
Shelter closures blamed for abandonments
Shelter closures were blamed in some quarters for alleged abandonments of dogs, a frequent issue after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, forcing an unplanned sudden evacuation of more than a million people and preventing many people who were at work or in school from returning home to collect pets and possessions.
Wrote Ryan Saavedra for the far-right Daily Wire, picking up on an earlier mention of the alleged abandonments during Hurricane Irma evacuations by Fox News, “Animal control officers found abandoned pets just north of Miami in Palm Beach County. Director of Animal Care Diane Sauve mentioned that these animals were not simply just left inside by their owners. ‘They are left in a yard, in a pen they cannot escape from or tethered to trees or poles,’ she said.
What did politics have to do with it?
“Before the hurricane made landfall in Florida,” Saavedra continued, “animal control officers managed to rescue 49 dogs and two cats.” Saavedra then noted that “Palm Beach County is one of 67 counties in Florida and one of only nine that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.”
What that might have had to do with people leaving pets, Saavedra did not explain.
Palm Beach County Animal Care & Control, meanwhile, was among at least 16 agencies that appeared to maintain normal animal services throughout the Hurricane Irma crisis, including holding animals for displaced people.
Among the 58 Florida animal shelters whose social media postings ANIMALS 24-7 monitored, no others reported more than a few isolated incidents of abandoned animals being found tethered outdoors. Many animals were stranded in homes by flooding, especially in the Jacksonville area, but most often were stranded with their people.
Dogs were often found at large in the first few days after Hurricane Irma, mostly after bolting from homes or yards in a panic during thunderstorms, but ANIMALS 24-7 found more accounts of happy reunions of lost dogs with their people than complaints about dogs being left in precarious situations.
101 animals rescued from flooded shelter
Probably the most dramatic rescue story emerging from animal shelters after Hurricane Irma was the evacuation of 101 dogs and cats from the flooded Clay County Animal Care & Control shelter near Jacksonville, Florida.
The rescue involved “a collaborative effort by Animal Care and Control staff, Environmental Services, Clay County Fire Rescue, Friends of Clay County Animals, Inc., Clay County Sheriff’s Office, Florida and other county and state agencies,” Clay County Animal Care & Control posted to Facebook.
“After the animals were brought to secure facility and made comfortable,” the posting continued, nonprofit organizations and local veterinary hospitals took in most of them.
The SAFE Animal Shelter in nearby Middleburg also flooded, necessitating the evacuation of 105 animals.
The Jacksonville Humane Society meanwhile “made the difficult decision to cancel Toast to the Animals this year,” an annual fundraising event that the society said “helps us to raise more than $150,000, which enables us to provide medical care to animals in need.”
The Suncoast Humane Society, in Englewood, cancelled a similar event called Pints for Paws.
These were only the most noted of many cancellations of scheduled humane society fundraising events around Florida, but the organizers of many other fundraisers posted notices of intent to continue as booked, even if obliged to continue without electricity.
Shelter reopenings follow electrical restoration
Overall, restoration of animal care and control services to Florida appeared to be progressing at about the same pace as restoration of electricity. More than 13 million Floridians were without electricity within the first hours after Hurricane Irma hit, of whom 6.4 million were still awaiting restoration of electrical service 72 hours later, with many people in rural areas not expected to get electricity back for another week or more.
Lack of electrical supply from outside lines does not necessarily force a shelter to close, especially if the shelter has a generator and enough propane or gasoline to keep it running. But generator power, while adequate for running pumps and keeping lights on, is unreliable for operating computers and other sensitive electronic equipment, since it may produce damaging power surges.
In absence of a reliable electrical feed, animal shelters with generators tend to be restricted to providing basic care and doing any necessary record-keeping and communication with battery-powered laptops, notebooks, or cell phones.
Animal shelters without generators have difficulty even furnishing animals with food and water and doing routine clean-up, including laundry.
How 58 shelters fared
The chart below describes how the 58 listed animal care facilities fared and what they did during Hurricane Irma, as best ANIMALS 24-7 was able to assess their situations via social media. Apologies are offered in advance for any errors or omissions.
(See also Hurricane Irma: first reports on animals in the Caribbean islands, Hurricane Irma: Hemingway cats & dolphin rescuer Rick Trout rode it out in the Keys , Hurricane Irma: how wildlife endured and Hurricane Irma: survival stories from 27 zoos & sanctuaries )