Marine life are major wildlife casualties
COOKEVILLE, Tennessee––Pipsqueak the three-legged mouse, a cow dead for perhaps 160 years, ten dogs succumbing to heat exhaustion aboard a rescue transport, and acres of decomposing marine life scattered across beaches more than 300 miles from where Hurricane Laura made landfall at Cameron Parish, Louisiana, appear to be the biggest animal-related news from what was at once the most powerful and perhaps the most anti-climactic hurricane to hit the U.S. since the mid-19th century.
Hurricane Laura, blowing in from the Caribbean 15 years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and Gulfport, could have become the animal rescue saga of the present decade.
But it did not, because it somehow missed practically every heavily populated area other than Lake Charles, Louisiana, and apparently eluded all major animal agriculture facilities as well, before simmering down from a Category Four hurricane into just another heavy wind-and-rain storm.
Generator exhaust killed more people than did the storm
More humans––eight––died due to carbon monoxide poisoning from gas-powered generators than the six known to have been killed by direct effects of Hurricane Laura.
The known toll on pets and livestock, as of August 30, 2020, three days after Hurricane Laura swept through, may not reach the thousands, though a late-arriving report from just one ill-fated chicken barn in northern Louisiana could send the numbers soaring.
“Our concern now is what the storm is going to do in the northern part of the state,” Louisiana Farm Bureau communications director Avery Davidson told media, after the storm itself blew out. “There are lots of poultry houses around Natchitoches and Ruston,” Davidson said, “and we don’t know what power outages,” some of them continuing for days, “are going to do to the farmers’ ability to cool and water their birds.”
Meanwhile, “The only story that keeps coming back around are 595 cows missing from the Holly Beach area,” Louisiana Farm Bureau’s livestock committee chair Marty Wooldridge told Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Megan Wyatt. “There were 600,” Wooldridge said, “and they only found five. There was no sign of the rest of them, but no dead ones either. They think they may have been swept back out to the Gulf.”
Out-of-state rescuers returned within days
Anticipating another Hurricane Katrina, with tens of thousands of dogs and cats displaced or in need of rescue from flooded homes, animal rescuers who set out on Friday from the upper Midwest, prepared for a week-long mission, were often back in their own beds Sunday night.
Some found a few dozen animals in Louisiana and Texas shelters to bring back for rehoming. Others found only rain-soaked parking lots and empty buildings, darkened by electrical blackouts, all the animals already hauled away by rescuers who got there sooner.
Major mass media, with relatively little of a dramatic nature to cover, at least on the animal beat, made Pipsqueak the three-legged mouse a celebrity.
Pipsqueak, reported Kelli Bender for People magazine on August 28, 2020, “is one of the more than 400 at-risk pets transported out of shelters in Hurricane Laura’s path to rescues across America with room to house the animals looking to evade the storm.
“Wings of Rescue and GreaterGood.org partnered together to charter eight life-saving flights to move animals out of the Gulf Coast area before Hurricane Laura made landfall,” explained Bender.
“Pipsqueak was on a plane chartered to help the Humane Society of North Texas and the SPCA of Texas,” in Fort Worth and Dallas, respectively, “to transport animals from the Houston SPCA and the Galveston Island Humane Society. Joining the little mouse on the flight were 56 cats, 20 dogs, and three rabbits.
“Pipsqueak quickly caught the eye of numerous potential adopters,” Bender said, “racking up a long waitlist just 24 hours after his adoption info was posted,” ending up “dry, safe, and in a forever home.”
One terrified cow
With no current live animal stories to report, Newsweek meanwhile headlined “The Island…Split in Half. Only One Terrified Cow Remained,” above an article by Hannah Osborne about the Last Island Hurricane of 1856,” the only hurricane on record to hit the U.S. with greater force than Hurricane Laura.
Striking east of the path of Hurricane Laura, the Last Island Hurricane obliterated a resort community, killing at least 198 people while 203 survived. Only the cow remained alive on the submerged remnants of the island that the resort had occupied. The other portion became “a haven for pelicans and other sea birds,” Osborne said.
Wings of Rescue & P.E.T.S. LLC
Wings of Rescue, whose flight brought Pipsqueak north, by August 30, 2020 said on Facebook that it had evacuated 1,525 animals from the anticipated path of Hurricane Laura and the disaster zone afterward, making 29 total flights, carrying 1,040 dogs, 481 cats, three rabbits, as well as Pipsqueak.
While Wings of Rescue drew kudos, Peterson Express Transport Service, better known as P.E.T.S. LLC, drew furious condemnation from as many as 800 social media commenters after acknowledging the deaths of 10 dogs aboard the P.E.T.S. LLC eighteen-wheeler during an overnight stop, apparently at the company headquarters in Cookeville, Tennessee.
Beginning as rescue transporters around the time of Hurricane Katrina, Kyle and Pam Peterson gradually expanded their operation into a business that delivers dogs, and sometimes cats, from “rescues” in the South to adopters and rehoming organizations in the northern Midwest and the Northeast.
Air conditioning failed
Posted P.E.T.S. LLC, “At some point after midnight on August 27-28, one of the areas where dogs stay overnight lost air conditioning and we were not alerted. While we were able to get emergency medical care for many of our dogs, ten dogs suffered from heatstroke. We immediately started conducting an extensive investigation to determine what caused the malfunction of the air conditioning and the lack of an alert, to ensure this never happens again.”
The malfunction was apparently discovered at about 9:30 in the morning on August 28, 2020. The dogs appear to have died aboard a routinely scheduled transport, but the transport may have been carrying more dogs than usual, and/or delayed, because of the approach of Hurricane Laura, which more-or-less followed the truck north.
Cookeville itself was hit by a tornado in early March 2020 that caused 18 human deaths in surrounding suburbs.
Chicago rescuers return home early
Humane organizations recovering some animals from inside the Hurricane Laura disaster area included the Houston SPCA and the Louisiana SPCA, which teamed up to relay 90 animals to Houston from a damaged shelter in Lake Charles.
“PAWS Chicago volunteers returned early from their rescue mission” to Louisiana, reported WLS of Chicago.
“Workers drove all night to get 10 dogs and 15 cats back to the PAWS medical center early Sunday,” WLS said, after “PAWS volunteers traveled south on Friday.
“The organization is assisting multiple shelters in the Louisiana boot,” WLS explained, “which were in the path of Hurricane Laura, some of which sustained wind damage and power outages. PAWS previously helped these shelters in rescue efforts during the Louisiana flooding of 2016 and Hurricane Barry in 2019.”
Mostly, shelters including the Michigan Humane Society and Angels of Assisi, in Roanoke, Virginia, posted announcements of having received relatively small numbers of animals who were evacuated from shelters ahead of Hurricane Laura, to make room for many more whose arrivals were expected, but mostly did not materialize––at least not within the first 72 hours after the storm passed.
(Many other shelters that participated in evacuating animals were mentioned earlier in Animal losses low after Hurricane Laura––but worst may be ahead.)
Zoos throughout the Hurricane Laura disaster area were closed due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions. Some had been closed for months, and had downsized their collections.
The Alexandria Zoo in Alexandria, Louisiana, reported the most damage.
Posted zoo staff to Facebook, “For much of the night, the zoo saw little damage. As our storm ride-out crew made rounds overnight, only smaller limbs and one tree had fallen throughout the zoo. However, beginning in the 6 o’clock hour, the wind raged with a vengeance that snapped, twisted, and toppled more than 50 mature trees across our campus.
“The damage affected more than 20 animal habitats, countless fences, several roofs, and completely blocked passage of most of the trails,” the Facebook posting continued.
No animals were reported dead, injured, or escaped. Two pumas, however, named Jack and Diane, “stayed safe and secure through the storm, but their outdoor habitat was significantly damaged. Two sides of their habitat’s perimeter were crushed. The brother and sister pair will be spending some time at another zoo until their exhibit can be repaired,” the Alexandria Zoo said.
The most numerous wildlife casualties of Hurricane Laura appear to have been “thousands of sea squirts” pushed up on Pass-a-Grille Beach, in Pinellas County, Florida, south of Tampa, “by strong waves,” broadcast Josh Rojas of BayNews9 on August 27, 2020, before the hurricane actually made landfall.
Explained Rojas, “Tunicates, commonly called sea squirts, are a group of marine animals that spend most of their lives attached to shells and docks, according to Michelle Kerr with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.”
Typically tunicates live within a few thousand feet of a shoreline.
Said Kerr, “Most of the tunicates found [on Pass-a-Grille Beach] are attached to old shells, and some have been there long enough that they had communities of small mussels and other bivalves attached in the crevices,” meaning that when the sea squirts were washed ashore, they brought much more marine life with them to die in the sand.
As of August 27, 2020, “The trail of dead sea squirts stretched for more than a mile,” Rojas described.