Isolated facilities without electricity struggle to get information out
ANTIGUA & BARBUDA, ST. CROIX, VIEQUES, SAN JUAN, CIENFUEGOS––The first animal care facilities and storm shelters housing animals to post updates in the wake of Hurricane Irma reported that they had come through with few casualties and relatively minor damage.
But those suffering the most damage, especially those without electricity, may have had little way to relay their news to the outside world.
Antigua & Barbuda
Whirling like a giant sawblade biting into the Caribbean, reaching Category 5 strength before weakening to Category 4 as it struck Cuba and Category 3 as it hit the Florida Keys, Irma cut across Barbuda first, on September 5, 2017. Rendering more than 90% of the buildings on Barbuda uninhabitable, Irma forced the evacuation of all 1,800 island residents to the nearby island of Antigua, the larger part of the two-island nation of Antigua & Barbuda.
Whether the few resident dogs, cats, and donkeys of Barbuda were evacuated along with the people was not immediately clear.
Barbuda has no animal shelter or other humane organizations, but is served by the Antigua & Barbuda Humane Society & Donkey Sanctuary at Bethesda, Antigua.
Donkey Sanctuary preparations
Posted executive director Karen Corbin to Facebook, just before Hurricane Irma hit, “In 1995 we had a Category 4 hurricane named Luis and it was months before electricity and telephone were back on. Flooding was widespread, many folks were injured, a few people lost their lives, and dead animals were everywhere.”
“Here at the Donkey Sanctuary,” Corbin wrote, “we have removed anything that could be turned into a flying object and have placed our petting area donkeys into small corrals in the petting area in the hope that this will protect them from flying tree limbs, etc. The other donkeys in the sanctuary are either in one of our larger shelters or roaming in fenced paddocks that should be safe.
“As soon as we can,” Corbin pledged, “we will update you as to how we make out.”
Singer Kenny Chesney helps St. John
Country-western singer Kenny Chesney, a part-time resident of St. John, told HLN Morning Express program host Robin Meade that his home had doubled as a storm shelter for both humans and dogs.
“My house was, we thought a very safe place for everyone,” Chesney said, “because it was built with stone, concrete and bricks, and it was in an area of the island where we didn’t feel like we were going to get direct wind. I had about 20 people in my house. I’m a big dog lover, so I made sure all the dogs were in there also. They were scared. They were really scared. I had 200-mile-an-hour wind-tested windows throughout my house and every window in my house went out—just blew out. The people were really scared. They found more shelter in a big closet and were in that closet for a long time. They made it.
“I’m worried about all the dogs,” Chesney added. “In my plane, I’m sending water and dog food.”
Information scarce from St. Martin
News footage from the St. Martin Beach Plaza Hotel appeared to show some drowned dogs, but ANIMALS 24-7 found no other post-Hurricane Irma information available about how animals fared on the French-speaking island of St. Martin.
The last Facebook posting from the Poney Club Saint Martin Osmonville, a polo venue, came on September 5, 2017, several hours ahead of Hurricane Irma.
The islands of St. Kitts and Nevis, to the south, reportedly escaped severe damage.
St. Croix Animal Welfare Center
The St. Croix Animal Welfare Center, probably the strongest animal protection organization in the Virgin Islands, reported late on September 7, 2017 that it had “Thankfully no structural damage to the shelter, and all the dogs and cats are fine! We have no power or running water so we will remain closed to the public until further notice.
“We are watching Hurricane Jose closely,” the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center added, but while Jose as of September 9, 2017 had increased to Category 5 strength, it turned north, and was not expected to do further damage to the islands already suffering the effects of Irma.
The tiny Humane Society of Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, is believed to have evacuated some dogs by air before Hurricane Irma arrived, but details were unavailable.
Humane Society of St. Thomas
The already stressed Humane Society of St. Thomas on September 2, 2017 begged island residents to “Please do not make the Humane Society your dumping place for your animals. We have no space,” the Humane Society of St. Thomas posted to Facebook, “not a kennel, not a cage, not a crate. We are waiting for temps to drop so we can get our animals to waiting rescues stateside. But at this point we have to make decisions. How can you help? Please hold off dropping any animals off till next week when we may have space. Please do not drop off during storm preparation. We are short-staffed and our vet tech is beyond overwhelmed. If you have a crate, cage or space in your home or heart to foster a dog, cat, puppy or kittens through this storm, please come to the shelter. We will even loan you a crate if you are able to take an animal.”
Two days later, on September 4, 2017, the Humane Society of St. Thomas added, “Six dogs, two puppies and three kittens were taken into foster care for the duration of the storm. All of our animals have been moved inside so they will be crowded but safe.”
The management urged St. Thomas residents to bring their animals indoors for the duration of Hurricane Irma.
As of evening on September 9, 2017 the Humane Society of St. Thomas had not been back online, and was apparently among the 70% of the island left without electricity.
Vieques Humane Society
The island of Vieques took the first strike, and as it happened, the only direct hit as Hurricane Irma approached Puerto Rico.
Cofounded in 1986 by former war correspondent Ann Cottrell Free (1916-2004), the Vieques Humane Society survived as well as anyone could have hoped it would.
“The VHS cats in residence are fine,” the Vieques Humane Society posted on September 9, 2017. “We’re so thankful for that. The fences…not so much! Extensive repairs to the play yard fences and runs will be required.”
The Vieques Humane Society also reported a critical shortage of cat litter, clean-up supplies, and clean bedding, as lack of electricity precluded running the society’s washing machine.
Horse survived in the exam room
“The dedication of the staff to ensuring the safety of the Vieques Humane Society animals began early,” an unidentified board member elaborated. “Under very stressful conditions, with everyone frightened and having their own homes to secure and their own safety to consider, the staff worked tirelessly to secure the shelter. Under increasingly dire threatening conditions, all the animals were fed and watered and let outside for an hour or so to run and play with one another. The portable cages were all moved to secure inner spaces. Even our elderly horse JoJo was relocated to the interior of the shelter to the exam room to wait out the storm.
“The next morning the staff returned at 6:00 a.m.,” the account continued. “They had to navigate through a maze of fallen trees and downed power lines to reach their destination. When they arrived, the first order of business was to check on all the shelter animals, let them out, feed them, water them and hug them. We lost one of our beloved dogs. We believe the stress of the storm may have been too much for her to bear. Needless to say, the horse cleanup was time-consuming. Once the animals were attended to, we turned to assessing the considerable damage. But everyone’s spirits were high, and the relief was palpable.”
Elsewhere in Puerto Rico
The Humane Society of Puerto Rico, located in Guaynabo, a major San Juan suburb, evacuated 109 animals to safer quarters, according to a September 6, 2017 Facebook posting, and appeared to be back in business as usual by September 8, hosting a free pit bull sterilization clinic.
The semi-feral rhesus macaque colony at Cayo Santiago, an island off the southeastern coast of Puerto Rico, “did not sustain any major damage,” the Cayo Santiago Biological Field Station posted on September 7. 2017. The thousand-odd monkeys are descended from a group of 409 who were imported from India in 1938 by Clarence R. Carpenter for the School of Tropical Medicine in San Juan, a branch of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the University of Puerto Rico.
Still maintained by the University of Puerto Rico, the Cayo Santiago macaque research station is funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
No information was immediately available from the small Cuban animal sheltering community about effects on dogs, cats, equines, farmed animals or wildlife as Hurricane Irma slammed into the Cuban midsection before turning north toward Florida.
Occupying a peninsula directly in the projected hurricane path, the five-year-old Delfino Cayo Guillermo helicoptered six bottlenose dolphins to another dolphinarium located in Cienfuegos, built a year earlier on the opposite side of the island.
Both facilities, and a third dolphinarium at Varadero, are swim-with-dolphins attractions operated for tourists by a company called Palmares S.A.