Whatever didn’t blow away was stolen
ST. CROIX, U.S. Virgin Islands––“It is with a very heavy heart that we were forced to weld the door to our clinic closed today,” the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center posted to Facebook on September 28, 2017.
Even before Hurricane Maria crushed the U.S., Dutch, and British Virgin Islands, Hurricane Irma had already done extensive damage throughout the region, including forcing the total evacuation of the 1,800 human residents of Barbuda to Antigua, the slightly larger half of the two-island nation of Antigua & Barbuda.
“Cannot safely operate as an animal shelter”
“We cannot safely operate as an animal shelter right now due to physical property damage, and our clinic cannot be operational due to looting,” the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center board and staff concluded, but pledged, “We will rebuild, perhaps not in the same location. We will need much stateside support,” the posting finished, “as our community is at its knees.”
Earlier, the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center reported that the first personnel to reach the facilities, after a four-hour journey following Hurricane Maria, found “expensive, heavy metal cages smashed and blown all over. Some on the road and into the neighboring lot. Intake roof blew off and landed on our green truck. Could not tell how much damage to the vehicle. Not sure what can be salvaged. Clinic is okay. Some water on the floor.
Three dogs, one puppy, & cat weathered night of terror
“The three dogs and one puppy in the runs are okay. But shutters on both sides were stripped away during the storm. So it must have been pretty frightening for them. The one cat in the clinic is fine. Just unhappy. Back window of our grey car smashed out. Will have very limited ability to take in any animals. Will also be difficult to clean without power to run the water pump.”
Founded in 1973, the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center is among the outermost outposts of the U.S. humane community in the Caribbean region, serving the islands of St. Thomas and St. John as well as St. Croix.
Island Dog Rescue airlift saved 300+
After Hurricane Irma, Virginia Beach Virginian-Pilot reporter Mechelle Hankerson recounted, Island Dog Rescue cofounder Sali Gear, who grew up in St. Croix, “planned to fly about 20 animals to the continental U.S. each day over a week,” to evacuate the already beleaguered St. Croix Animal Welfare Center.
But as Hurricane Maria roared in, Hankerson wrote, “Gear and donors paid for a $112,000 charter flight from Miami to rescue more than 300 cats and dogs. They also provided $5,000 for carriers. The animals landed safely,” just before the second and more devastating of the two Category 5 hurricanes hit.
Island Dog Rescue followed up after Hurricane Maria.
Flew in dog, cat, & horse food
“We have contracted with Amerijet and we are using cargo space not being used by the Federal Emergency Management Administration to get in generators and basic supplies for humans,” posted the other Island Dog Rescue cofounder Katie Block on September 26, 2017. “Additionally, tomorrow we start shipping in horse feed because there is little vegetation and fencing is down everywhere.”
Updated Block on September 30, 2017, “The pallets of donated dog, cat and horse food have landed in St. Croix. Paperwork issues with FEMA were mitigated and the supplies are finally where they need to be. Emergency items made it to the Animal Welfare Center and staff members who are fostering animals in their homes. Over 100 dog crates went to St. Maarten,” a Dutch-ruled island that was also hit by both Hurricanes Irma and Maria, “and some to St. Croix to help people [who are leaving the island] evacuate their pets.
“Additionally,” Block posted, “an equine vet and tech are en route tomorrow to St. Thomas and then St. Croix with over $20,000 in donated medical supplies to help the equine population. While ‘Dog’ might be in our name, “ Block closed, “we support all animal life and, especially in light of the recent tragedies, we will put our money and our efforts where they are needed.”
Animals marooned on St. John
St. Thomas and St. John received animal relief help from the International Fund for Animal Welfare after Hurricane Irma, Saryn Chorney of People magazine reported, profiling the contributions of St. John’s Animal Care Center manager Ryan Moore.
“Upon arrival to the island,” Chorney wrote, “the IFAW team,” headed by disaster response manager Shannon Walajtys, “discovered both the animal shelter and the veterinary clinic, Canines Cats & Critters, on St. John were at double their normal capacity. Some of the pets were already living at the shelter, some were strays, some were abandoned during the storm, but many were taken in as a favor to residents who were fleeing the island but not allowed to bring their pets with them.”
“The shelter stayed fairly intact, but a large hole had blown out through the back wall in the cat room. Luckily, all the cats were still safe and in their cages. There was also flooding below the shelter, and a mudslide had caused the porch to collapse on the right side of the building.”
Maria forced IFAW to evacuate
Then Hurricane Maria struck St. John.
Posted Moore to Facebook on September 23, 2017, when he was finally able to access a WiFi hotspot, “I want to tell my wife how much I love her and happy first birthday to Dylan,” one of their two sons. “I find myself talking to myself a lot these days. My beard is greasy and every joint and bone in my body aches. With Hurricane Maria our relief team was forced to evacuate,” on September 17, 2017, “and the shelter animals were not able to get out.”
Moore hoped to fly the shelter animals to safety during the last week of September, with IFAW help, but as of September 30, 2017, while the animals were in “good condition,” according to an IFAW posting, the animal airlift had not just transpired.
Animals left behind on Barbuda
The government of Antigua & Barbuda on September 29, 2017 began allowing some Barbuda residents to return to begin salvaging possessions, cleaning up whatever remains of their homes and businesses, and rebuilding.
The evacuation “left cats, dogs and herds of livestock bereft of their owners,” Time.com reporter Tara John observed on September 13, 2017, in the only detailed description of the condition of animals on Barbuda to reach the outside world since Hurricane Irma hit.
“Without their owners,” John wrote, “the dogs are getting hungry. Karen Corbin, president of the Antigua & Barbuda Humane Society, says the dogs will eventually turn on the horses, cows, goats, sheep, pigs and poultry now roaming free across Barbuda’s farmland, as fences and pens have been uprooted or destroyed.”
Goat farmer fed dogs
Antiguan goat farmer Zifforah Tyrell, 29, ventured to Barbuda between Hurricanes Irma and Maria to feed as many of the dogs as possible, John recounted.
The British-based organization World Animal Protection sent personnel to help with the post-Irma animal rescue efforts, but Hurricane Maria delayed the joint Antigua & Barbuda Humane Society and WAP response for another three days, Corbin posted to Facebook.
Earlier, on September 12, 2017, Antigua’s Donkey Sanctuary posted to Facebook that it had “received a mandate, from the minister responsible for Barbuda, to coordinate all relief work related to Barbuda’s animals.
“We will be working with a number of major international animal welfare organizations to assess conditions, plan and then coordinate the efforts to rescue all animals currently alive on Barbuda,” the sanctuary pledged, adding that “While Antigua was not hit as hard as Barbuda, we still had serious damage, primarily to our fencing. All of the fencing around most of the fields and paddocks is destroyed and must be replaced. The donkeys who were in the paddocks are now corralled in a small pasture that still has fencing intact.”
More than a week after Hurricane Maria, Antigua’s Donkey Sanctuary appeared to have posted no further information, likely due to loss of electricity.
Vieques Humane Society survives second hit in two weeks
West of Antigua & Barbuda and the Virgin Islands, but east of storm-ravaged mainland Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, like the rest of the region, experienced some damage from Irma, then wholesale destruction as Maria blew through, bringing torrential rains and flash-fooding with it.
Vieques Humane Society shelter manager Aleida Tolentino reportedly endured both hurricanes at the shelter with more than 100 dogs and cats.
The Vieques Humane Society had collected extra dog food and other supplies ahead of Hurricane Maria, but was unable to move it from Fajardo, Puerto Rico to Vieques before Maria hit.
Veterinarian Pedro Watlington was on September 26, 2017 said to be trying to bring the supplies in his private boat, but no further information was posted about that effort. Since Fajardo, at the extreme eastern end of mainland Puerto Rico, was hit as hard by Hurricane Maria as Vieques, it is likely that neither the supply cache nor the boat were left in condition to make the 40-odd-mile round trip.
HSUS & PETA reach Puerto Rico
Humane Society of the U.S. senior advisor for wildlife response & policy Dave Pauli led a relief team to Vieques and mainland Puerto Rico. The HSUS team reached Puerto Rico on September 28, 2017, along with Virginia Beach SPCA director Jenny Teed and a team from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Leaving most of the HSUS team to assist on the mainland, Pauli moved on to Vieques, where he had recently helped with a feral horse contraception project, a day later.
Blogged Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle, “Three years ago, HSUS and Humane Society International (HSI) launched our Humane Puerto Rico program, working with all of the animal shelters on the island” to train law enforcement personnel, conduct humane education, strengthening animal welfare laws, and contracept free-roaming horses.”
Supplies for people
Having flown 200 dogs to the mainland ahead of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, HSUS “pledged to move [more] shelter dogs and cats off the island during this crisis and to deliver them to the mainland to ready them for adoption by our 400 or so Emergency Placement Partners,” Pacelle said, “led by St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Shelter, a long-time HSUS partner that has agreed to serve as a hub for animals coming out of Puerto Rico, working with “GreaterGood.com and Wings of Rescue. This troika of organizations collaborated in Texas and Florida,” in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Pacelle recalled, “and together we’ve rescued and moved more than 1,900 animals already.”
The first planeload of supplies that HSUS sent to the stricken islands, Pacelle said, went to Puerto Rico, “loaded with supplies for people. We know there is great suffering, and we want to deliver some reprieve. Once people are able to meet life’s necessities and their personal circumstances are stabilized, they will be in a stronger position to provide care to animals in their lives and in their communities,” Pacelle hoped.
Two Humane Society International rescue team members had already reached the British Virgin Islands, Pacelle added, and “sheltered in place as the Hurricane Maria rolled over. Before Maria hit, the team managed to evacuate nine dogs from the Humane Society of the British Virgin Islands, which had already been destroyed by the hit from Irma, with no roof and just a few walls standing. The dogs were taken to a local clinic where they could safely ride out the storm.”
Next along the hurricanes’ paths were the Turks & Caicos islands. Information from the Turks & Caicos did not reach ANIMALS 24-7 until October 2, 2017, when the North Shore Animal League American posted to Facebook that “Our rescue team is heading back to campus with fifteen canines from our shelter partner in Turks & Caicos SPCA, who “had their facility severely damaged by Hurricane Irma.”