Four hurricanes in six weeks stretch rescue efforts from the Caribbean islands to Texas
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2004:
ORLANDO–Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne
ripped through the Caribbean, Florida, and parts of other southern
states in August and September 2004 like the Four Horsemen of the
Apocalypse, scything down whatever they met.
In between, tropical storm Alex, Bonnie, and Gaston hit hard too.
More than 3,000 people were killed in Haiti, mainly by mud slides,
and at least 31,000 people lost their homes. The magnitude of the
human disaster tended to obscure the parallel animal disaster.
“An estimated 40,000 animals, including dogs, cats, and
farm animals, are in urgent need of help,” e-mailed Anne Ostberg of
the Pegasus Foundation, who helped to fund and coordinate Caribbean
“The World Society for the Protection of Animals is working
with the Argentine army and ambassador to get veterinary supples to
Haiti,” Ostberg added, “with an immediate focus on disease control
and treating surviving farm animals. WSPA is also working with two
contacts in Port au Prince.”
Ostberg said WSPA was assisting as well in Cuba, the Dominican
Republic, Venezuela, and Panama.
The Houston-based Spay-Neuter Assistance Team, Houston Zoo,
Summerlee Foundation, and PetCo stepped in to help in the Cayman
“When we arrived, we found a total disaster,” e-mailed SNAP
founder Sean Hawkins, who flew to Grand Cayman with Houston Zoo
hospital manager Tammy Roberts. “The Cayman Humane Society is
destroyed,” Hawkins said. “Four feet of water swept through the
building, and it has been condemned. There was no veterinarian on
the island. We distributed 12 pallets of dog and cat food to the
human evacuation centers across the island,” to enable as any as
2,000 displaced people to feed their pets.
SNAP also delivered a generator to the remnants of the humane
society and arranged to evacuate up to 250 dogs and cats to the
Houston SPCA and Citizens for Animal Protection, to be adopted.
More than 90% of the chicken population of Grenada were
killed, along with many pigs, and the Grenada SPCA building was
damaged, according to e-mails from Ostberg and Lisa Sock of Care2,
who visited the islands with the WSPA disaster relief team.
“More than 10 million chickens were lost in Jamaica. That’s
40% of their chicken population,” Sock said. “Emaciated dogs are
wandering the streets of Kingston,” she added. “The Jamaica SPCA is
doing their best to gather up the injured dogs, but are overwhelmed
by the sheer numbers of animals in need.”
The International Fund for Animal Welfare and Humane Society
International reportedly also helped Grenada and Jamaica.
The Grand Bahamas Humane Society received aid from Save-A-Pet
of Long Island and the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, who took
back to Long Island at least 21 dogs and seven cats, according to
reports from veterinarian William Fielding of the College of the
Bahamas and Charlie McGinley of the Brookhaven Animal Shelter.
“The media is now calling us ‘storm weary Floridians.’ Four
hurricanes in six weeks will do that to you,” Big Cat Rescue founder
Carole Lewis e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE from Tampa on September 26,
as the onslaught seemed to be ending.
“The last hurricane took out our main computer,” Lewis said,
“so I am writing on a battery powered laptop. My vision of our
parking area is obscured by a tree that has fallen on our E-center,”
used for education, entertainment, and special events.
“We gave our generator to another accredited sanctuary that
sustained damage during Hurricane Charley,” Lewis added. “We bought
another and intended to buy two more, so that there would be one
for each of our freezers and one for one of our wells. We discovered
that the size of generator that we could afford could not handle even
our smallest freezer. The type of generator needed to run a freezer
costs in excess of $15,000.”
Working without electricity was difficult, but the storm
damage created more urgent priorities than buying generators.
“During Hurricane Ivan,” Lewis explained, “several trees
fell into our open-top cages, including one that fell against the
wall of our three-acre cage. The wall held, but the tree created a
ramp that could have become an escape route.
“Another tree fell in the servals’ open yard. The good news
is that the servals were moved earlier in the week. The bad news is
that the tree crashed down across the wall of the empty cage and
smashed into the top of Lola’s enclosure. Lola is a fully clawed
black leopard who doesn’t like people,” Lewis elaborated.
“Fortunately, thanks to last year’s Fur Ball, Lola was among the
cats who got a concrete bunker under a hill of earth.
“Cody and Missouri, the mountain lions, had a tree fall on
their roof. People will often tell us how lucky we are to work with
big cats, but they haven’t considered what is involved in risking
our own lives to be sure that the cats are contained.”
Of one of her staff Lewis wrote, “Consider the heroism
involved in blocking the escape hatch on a cage that contains two
frightened cougars with your own body, while fastening a patch of
cage wire in place, in blinding rain and gusts of wind.”
Most of the animals at Big Cat Rescue took cover during the
hurricanes, but the tigers apparently just thought it was monsoon
season. “The tigers typically will choose to lie out in the open and
watch the flying debris,” Lewis noted.
Not everyone with large carnivores to confine through the
storms did as well. The Gulf Breeze Zoo in Gulf Breeze, Florida,
closed after Hurricane Ivan for a month of repair work. The Alabama
Gulf Coast Zoo in Gulf Shores, just to the west, suffered an
estimated $500,000 worth of wind and flood damage while still trying
to recover from $300,000 in losses due to Hurricane Georges in 1998.
An emu and an ostrich drowned, 20-odd fallow deer escaped, and so
did a 13-foot alligator named Chuckie who came to the zoo after
eating several dogs and terrorizing picnic-goers at nearby Gulf State
Chuckie was finally recaptured, after another alligator found loose
on the premises was shot.
Humane Society of the U.S. field representative Dave Pauli,
who came from Montana to help, reportedly found one of the missing
deer in a crawl space beneath a house.
Most of the other hooved stock rescues of note involved
cattle and horses. In one instance, reported by Michelle Krupa of
the New Orleans Times-Picayune, about 50 cattle were swept out of a
field into the swollen Mississippi River near Bohemia, Louisiana,
but mostly survived when they were thrown up on a levee near Buras,
on the far side.
A Bengal tiger cub appeared near a gas station at Fort Polk,
Louisiana, on August 27, and remained at large into October.
National Guard members searched first, but were called to hurricane
relief duty after two weeks. Regular Army personnel and USDA
Wildlife Services continued the hunt, finding paw prints and
droppings but not the tiger.
No state has more exotic petkeepers or exotic animal care and
exhibition facilities than Florida. Inevitably some were hit.
The seven humans, 14 chimpanzees, five orangutans, and six
dogs at Center for Great Apes, in Wauchula, Florida were unhurt when
“slammed by the eye wall of Hurricane Charley,” an e-mail to the
Jane Goodall Institute recounted, but suffered extensive property
damage, and had to operate without power for a week.
“Palm Beach County’s animal parks face more than $1 million
in damage and revenue loss because of back-to-back Hurricanes Frances
and Jeanne,” Palm Beach Post staff writer Kimberly Miller estimated.
An elderly blackbuck antelope died at Lion Country Safari,
Miller said, while the Dreher Park Zoo lost a Cooper’s hawk, a baby
ibis, a pair of toucans, several chickens, and a dozen 16-year-old
koi fish. Llamas and Aldabra tortoises, not normally housed
together, were put together because flooding caused a shortage of
“Everything built to hurricane code is intact,” noted living
collections director Keith Lovett.
The Rare Species Conservatory Foundation in Loxahatchee
protected 115 rare tropical birds, 22 nonhuman primates, seven
cats, a squirrel, biologist Paul Reillo, and curator Karen
McGovern in steel bunkers, Palm Beach Post staff writer Tim O’Meilia
recounted, while 10 endangered bongo antelope survived outside, but
three flight cages were destroyed by a tornado.
Struggling throughout seven years of operating from a
one-acre leased site in Christmas, Florida, the Creating Animal
Respect Education sanctuary was nearly evicted in 2001, and was
already facing relocation with 60 animals including a bear and six
big cats when the current lease expires in June 2005. Then Hurricane
Charley shattered the barn used to house the animals. The property
owner told founder Christine Burford not to try to repair it,
reported Orlando Sentinel staff writer Pamela J. Johnson.
The Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter not only looked after
its own 300-400 resident animals, but took in as many as 200 more,
executive director David Hitzig told Palm Beach Post staff writer
“Our finances are going to come to a screeching halt,”
Hitzig worried. “A lot of people brought in animals, but not many
Birds and squirrels blown out of trees were the most evident animal
victims of Hurricane Charley.
The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland took in half
a dozen injured ospreys and two captive eagles from a damaged
sanctuary in Punta Gorda, plus several baby squirrels who did not
really belong in that company, reported Orlando Sentinel staff
writer Joe Newman.
Mary Jane Eisner of The Haven sanctuary in Altamonte Springs
told Newman that she had received more than 300 baby squirrels, and
did not have enough volunteers to bottle-feed them all.
At the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Central Florida in
Christmas, Ron and Carol Hardee expected to receive as many baby
squirrels in the third week of August as in all of 2003.
Anita Pinder, director of operations at the Clinic for the
Rehabilitation of Wildlife on Sanibel Island, took in about 30 baby
squirrels, she told Pamela Smith Hayford of the Fort Myers
From the Florida Keys to New Orleans tens of thousands of
people with pets bundled them into cars and drove as far away from
the predicted paths of each hurricane as possible, seeking
accommodations wherever they felt safe.
Odette Grosz, a valuable New Orleans news source for ANIMAL
PEOPLE from inception in 1992, unexpectedly found herself in Tyler,
Texas. There she learned from a motel TV that Hurricane Ivan had
turned and hit 300 miles away from the home she had been warned to
Grosz didn’t lose any animals, but New Orleans
Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose recounted how another local
animal person lost her cat when the disoriented animal pushed a motel
room door open and bolted into the night in Paul’s Valley, Oklahoma.
Unlike most pets who vanish after natural disasters, the cat was
wearing identification tags.
Ironically, New Orleans only days before was a destination
of people fleeing Hurricane Ivan from farther east in Louisiana,
Mississippi, and even Alabama.
“Before Ivan was ashore,” wrote Allen G. Breed of Associated
Press, “the lobby of the New Orleans Riverside Hilton resembled less
a storm shelter than an animal shelter. With 90% of its rooms
occupied, the hotel suspended its pet ban as a service to the
community, and the clicking of claws and ringing of barks echoed off
the marble floors and sculpted walls.
“Robbie Giancontiere, 9, took pictures for a school science
fair and counted over 50 different dog breeds,” Breed continued.
“‘The only thing we haven’t seen, and I’m thanking the Lord
for this, is reptiles,’ said his mother Cathy.”
A month earlier to the day, Hurricane Charley hit the Adam’s
Mark hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida, during the National Reptile
Breeders’ Expo. The herp fanciers toughed it out and the show went
“One drunken British herper ran the beach,” recounted
Daytona News-Herald staff writer Virginia Smith, “rescuing starlings
who had plunged into puddles.”
Animal rescuers usually work almost invisibly, at night and
in places most people don’t go, to coax frightened feral cats and
abandoned dogs into humane traps. At disaster scenes, however,
rescuers are often conspicuous at formerly busy locations, hastily
evacuated, with animals left behind.
Thus Janet Caggiano of the Rich-mond Times-Dispatch noticed
and profiled Cat Adoption & Rescue Efforts volunteer Marie Gratton,
who tried to catch cats at a vacated and condemned trailer park after
flash flooding caused by Tropical Storm Gaston.
Veterinary Practice News correspondent Lynn Tiffany noticed
and profiled Stuart George, DVM, of Fort Pierce, Florida, who
looked after about 100 animals by himself, without power, during
the mandatory Labor Day weekend evacuation of St. Lucie County.
Experienced animal disaster relief workers anticipate phases
of activity that begin with a surge of pets left at shelters by
evacuees who cannot take them into temporary accomodations provided
by human disaster relief agencies. Calls to help lost, abandoned,
and injured animals who have been caught in the disaster typically
start about three days later, when hungry animals come out of hiding
and displaced people begin trickling back home to find them. After
that comes the prolonged effort to reunite animals who still have
homes with their people, and to find as many homes as possible for
those who cannot be reunited.
Disaster relief protocols largely developed as result of
experience the humane community gained after Hurricane Andrew hit
Florida in 1992 accordingly call for pre-planned phases of response.
First, shelters near the disaster are emptied of as many
animals as can be taken to shelters farther away, to make room for
the expected influx.
Then disaster rescue teams are mobilized, including veterinarians,
trained shelter personnel from elsewhere around the state or nation,
and volunteers trained by such organizations as United Animal Nations
and Noah’s Wish, begun three years ago by Terri Crisp, who founded
the UAN program in 1990.
Everything went more-or-less according to plan following
Hurricane Charley. Indeed, far more experienced personnel were
available than were needed.
Many of the 500-plus participants at the 2004 Conference on
Homeless Animal Policy & Management held at the edge of the hurricane
damage zone in Orlando volunteered to help, and kept their cell
phones and beepers with them, but just a handful of veterinary
specialists were called.
One participant, cat rescuer Frank Hamilton of Tampa,
mentioned having 20 extra cats temporarily bunking at his home.
Serious damage affecting domestic animals was largely
confined to Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte, Polk County, and DeSoto
County. Shelters in both Polk County and DeSoto country were heavily
Other than that, animal care facilities were spared,
including a serpentarium housing more than 400 venomous snakes used
in antivenin production.
“All of his snakes are accounted for. That’s one of the
first places we checked,” wildlife rehabilitator Lloyd Brown assured
Associated Press writer Brendan Farrington.
The Suncoast Humane Society in nearby Englewood became the
disaster relief headquarters. Thirty volunteers working with the
Humane Society of the U.S. Disaster Animal Response Team set up a
temporary shelter at a sports complex in Carmelita Park that handled
more than 600 animals.
Suncoast Humane Society executive director Debra Parsons-Drake told
Fort Launderdale Sun-Sentinel staff writer Sally Kestin that a month
later, only half of the dogs received had been reclaimed by their
people, and only about 10 of about 240 cats.
Pre-planning and training continued to save the day, and
day after day.
Hurricane Frances spread the disas ter zone to the Treasure Coast.
The Humane Society of the Palm Beaches, already housing 550 animals,
took in another 250 during the first six hours of the Hurricane
Frances crisis, marketing coordinator Arin Roos said. Palm Beach
County Animal Control admissions were 20% above normal. The Humane
Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County and the Humane Society
of St. Lucie County in Fort Pierce also reported steeply elevated
The Humane Society of the Treasure Coast took in about 125
animals who were displaced by Hurricane Frances, while operating for
12 days with only generator-powered emergency lights and fans for
The Humane Society of Sarasota County, having received
dozens of animals from Hurricane Charley, had to relay many to
shelters farther away.
The Houston SPCA took 166 animals who were displaced by
Hurricane Charley, then forwarded 88 to the SPCA of Texas in Dallas,
to make room for a further influx after hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne
hit Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
“We flood during even minor tropical storms,” Louisiana SPCA
executive director Laura Maloney told Pam Easton of Associated Press.
Located near the Mississippi River in New Orleans, the Louisiana
SPCA evacuated more than 400 animals to shelters farther inland.
Stray dogs went to Jackson, Mississippi. Animals held in connection
with cruelty investigations were kept in state, in Baton Rouge,
along with the shelter’s cats.
The Humane Society of South Mississipi in Gulfport was
evacuated initially in anticipation of Hurricane Ivan, and then
again due to storm damage, after taking in another 160 animals.
A DC-3 helps, too
Delta Airlines pilot Dan Gryder flew 133 displaced Florida
dogs and cats to the Atlanta Humane Society for adoption in his own
restored 1938 vintage DC-3, then flew 65 more to Colorado Animal
Rescue in Loveland.
Other distant shelters seeking homes for displaced Florida
animals included the Nashville Humane Association, the North Shore
Animal League, the Toledo Area Humane Society, and the Western
Pennsylvania Humane Society in Pittsburgh.
Hurricane Andrew displaced as many as 40,000 animals, HSUS
southeast regional officer director Laura Bevan recalled. Effective
disaster relief preparation held the totals from each of the four
2004 hurricanes well below that, but Bevan expected the cumulative
total to be higher.
The 690 PetCo stores began raising funds on September 5 to
replenish the PetCo Foundation disaster relief budget. As well as
helping in the Caribbean, the foundation contributed $20,000 to the
Hurricane Charley and Frances recovery efforts, including a grant of
$10,000 to the Broward County Humane Society to help extend services
into the damaged areas. Hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne ensured that the
need would be ongoing.
Not to be outdone, PETsMART Charities donated more than
$75,000 to 10 Florida organizations, ranging from the animal rights
group Sarasota In Defense of Animals (perhaps best known for finding
sanctuaries for displaced exotic species) to the Florida Association
of Kennel Clubs and National Greyhound Foundation.
The two companion animal agencies most profoundly affected by
the hurricane season may have been the Humane Society of Polk County,
in Winter Haven, Florida, and All Creatures Great & Small, in
Hendersonville, North Carolina.
Humane Society of Polk County executive director Lisa Baker
had been urging the board of directors to adopt a no-kill policy for
at least a year, board member Jane Watrs told Laren Glenn of the
“After Hurricane Charley ripped through the humane society’s
building, collapsing the kennel ceiling and covering the cats in
their cages with white cotton insulation, the leaders decided enough
had been lost. They did not want to lose anything else, including
their animals,” Glenn wrote.
Forced to rebuild or relocate, the Humane Society of Polk
County intends to seek new quarters appropriate to fulfilling a
All Creatures Great & Small, a 15-year-old no-kill shelter,
was housing about 500 animals on September 8 when the remnants of
Hurricane Frances flooded the dilapidated premises. All Creatures
had also for months been the target of a highly critical PETA web
site featuring undercover video taken in May 2004, and was
contesting a closure order issued by the North Carolina Department of
On September 11 city inspectors ordered All Creatures to
leave the building.
Yet All Creatures continued to enjoy strong local support,
including from longtime Hendersonville Times-News editor Joy Franklin
and radio station WHKP.
The All Creatures animals were evacuated for two weeks to a
former state prison that is soon to become a state department of
transportation storage complex. Many were adopted out, in response
to emergency appeals, while staff and volunteers renovated the old
shelter. About 280 dogs and 132 cats returned to it on September 24.
Special issues involving pit bull terriers arose at least four times:
* Hernando County on August 12 cleared pound space before
Hurricane Charley by returning to Frederick Carl Smith of Lakeland 13
of 14 pit bulls who were seized from him on July 2 on suspicion that
they were trained to fight.
* Anger management and addiction counselor Ryan C. Moore,
54, of Stuart, was arrested during Hurricane Frances for allegedly
ordering his two pit bulls terriers to attack William E. Schoomaker
and Sabrina Stuart, who were waiting out the storm in the same
office building as Moore.
* “When planning the evacuation of the Louisiana SPCA’s
shelter animals for Hurricane Ivan, we ran into a snag with
pitbulls,” executive director Laura Maloney wrote in her weekly
column for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “Other shelters did not
want to accept them. The Mississippi Animal Rescue League agreed to
accept our adoptable pitbulls provided that they returned to us
following the storm.”
* Citrus County Animal Services on October 6 rescued 10 pit
bulls found chained behind a mobile home as flood waters rose around
them, but two other pit bulls drowned before the animal control team
Following the urgent clean-up and repair work, experts
began assessing the impact of the storms on habitat.
Hurricane Charley caused a 70% loss of foliage at the J.N.
“Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refugre on Sanibel Island, refuge
manager Bob Jess reported. Nesting trees used by eagles were toppled
on Pine Island and Cape Coral. But Cape Coral city biologist Sue
Scott found that all radio-collared Florida panthers in the vicinity
were alive and well, and discovered burrowing owls at 10 of the 14
known local nest sites.
Seventeen National Wildlife Refuges were hit by Hurricane
Frances, cumulatively suffering an estimated $10 million worth of
damage, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said. Then Ivan hit
several of the same refuges again, plus 10 others, including the
Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge where Alabama meets Mississippi.
Ancient sand dunes forming critical habitat for the
endangered Alabama beach mouse were nearly washed away at the Bon
Secour Refuge, west of Gulf Shores. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
spokesperson Tom MacKenzie put the damage to Bon Secour alone at $4.7
Hurricane Charley swamped more than 100 of the 344 known sea
turtle nesting sites at Cape Island, South Carolina, killing as
many as 5,000 hatchling turtles despite federal biologist Sarah
Dasewy’s desperate efforts to dig them out before they suffocated.
More young sea turtles might have been killed, but 2004 was a poor
year for loggerhead nesting. Only from a fourth to about half as
many loggerheads nested along the Grand Strand this year as in 2003,
Betsy Brabson of South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts told Myrtle
Beach Sun News reporter Kelly Marshall.
Hurricane Frances destroyed from 40% to 60% of the loggerhead
and green sea turtle nests at the Archie Carr National Wildlife
Refuge in Brevard County, Florida–usually about 25% of all the sea
turtle nests in the U.S., Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission biologist Robbin Trindell told Fort Launderdale
Sun-Sentinel staff writer David Fleshler.
Of 1,400 sea turtle nests at the Canaveral National Seashore,
230 survived hurricanes Charley and Frances, chief of resource
management John Stiner told Daytona Beach News-Journal correspondent
In addition, Stiner said, turtles coming ashore to nest
exceptionally late in the season started 35 new nests. But Stiner’s
hopes were dashed when Hurricane Jeanne destroyed virtually all of
the Canaveral turtle nests.
Ecological good news, for sea turtles and other species,
came in early October from Texas A&M University oceanographer Steve
DiMarco, who found that the hurricanes had broken up a month early
this year the oxygen-starved “dead zone” that forms annually off the
But more bad news came three days later from the U.S.
Minerals Management Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Nearly 60% of the Pass-A-Loutre Wildlife Management Area near
the mouth of the Mississipi River and substantial portions of the
adjacent Delta-Breton National Wildlife Refuge are contaminated by
oil leaking from at least three separate leaks in underwater
pipelines. This suggests that there may be other leaks as yet not
detected in the estimated 30,000 miles of pipeline running along the