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Search, Rescue, and Shelter: Hurricane Irene Relief

HSUS Animal Rescue Team responds in North Carolina

  • After Hurricane Irene pummelled North Caroalina, the HSUS's Animal Rescue Team sheltered a family's pets, including a very talkative parrot. Michelle Riley/The HSUS

  • A N.C. girl whose family lost everything sheltered her two cats, rabbit, and dog in the HSUS's emergency shelter. Michelle Riley/The HSUS

  • A N.C. family turned to The HSUS to shelter their horse after Hurricane Irene devastated the area. Michelle Riley/The HSUS

  • This rabbit was another homeless pet who got care and shelter after Hurricane Irene. Michelle Riley/The HSUS

by Michael Sharp

Jennifer Potter awoke early Saturday morning, Aug. 27, to flood waters creeping across her yard.

She raced around her home, picking things up off the floor and packing them onto bookcases, counters, and tables. "It just kept rising up,” she said of the water. “It started coming up on the porch, and then it came in real fast. … I just couldn’t pick things up fast enough.”

The furniture started floating. The refrigerator turned over. Her two dogs—Labrador-beagle mixes, Finn and Pebbles—sought higher ground on the backs of furniture. Eventually, Potter grabbed her two cats and set them down safely on a king-sized mattress that was floating in a bedroom.

In another room, she and her husband climbed onto the top bunk with their 3-year-old son, riding out Hurricane Irene there together as flood waters rose three-and-a-half to four feet inside their home. “It’s just so devastating,” she said later. “We lost everything.” On Tuesday morning, days after Hurricane Irene barreled through North Carolina, the HSUS Animal Rescue Team pulled into the Potter’s driveway, helping respond to a call that the family needed a safe place to house their pets while they stayed with relatives.

It was one of many stops Tuesday for the team, which joined Pamlico County animal control officer Berkley Hill in assessing damage, responding to similar calls, and continuing rescue efforts in hurricane-battered neighborhoods across this coastal county.  Additional staffers worked with volunteers from The HSUS and Hello Bully to set up an emergency animal shelter for families, like the Potters, who were in search of a temporary haven for their pets.

“[When] people are displaced, a lot of times the animals are not thought about until the last minute,” Hill said. “And then, they’re trying to figure out what to do with the animals. And they have nowhere to go or nothing to do, and they end up calling my office.

“And instead of turning them away like we have in the past, this year was the first year we brought HSUS in, and it’s like a dramatic change for our county. I mean, it’s really something that I think is going to help set a new standard for the county and level of care for the animals.” On Tuesday, HSUS responders helped take in seven dogs, five cats, a pet rabbit, a parrot, a horse, and a box turtle.

The day began with a short drive to find two Huskie mixes who had been running free since the hurricane. HSUS responders were able to get leashes on the dogs in a school parking lot—some two miles, and across two rivers, from their owner’s home.

Get more video, images, and updates on our Hurricane Irene response »

The team also responded to a call from a young family needing shelter for their pug, two cats, and rabbit, as well as a call to feed a pet parrot, who had been left behind in the bathroom of a flood-damaged house. Ultimately, responders decided to bring the bird back to the shelter for safe-keeping—along with a box turtle who had been found in an empty aquarium on the floor of a back bedroom, and two Labrador mixes who were hanging close to the front porch outside.

The parrot, for one, would make for a chatty co-pilot throughout the morning. “Every time I stopped somewhere, he would go, ‘Leaving?’ And every time I’d come back to the truck, he would say, ‘Hello,’” Hill said with a laugh. “We carried on conversations all the way up here.” For residents like Jennifer Potter, knowing that her two cats and two dogs will have fresh water, food, and a dry place to sleep provided a dash of relief as she began surveying the damage to her home, her SUV, and her husband’s crab business.

“I just thought this would be the best decision,” she said, “because they’d be fed, taken care of … until I can get back to them.”

Want to Help? Text LOVE to 20222 to donate $10 to support our Animal Rescue Team, currently working to help pets affected by Hurricane Irene.

Tuesday ended with a trip to rescue a horse named Lightning, to whom HSUS responders had delivered fresh drinking water earlier in the day. Lightning had gotten loose during the hurricane, and Schindler later learned people had snapped pictures of the horse swimming down the street. HSUS responders eventually caught up to him Sunday, using a belt and a leash to lead him to a neighbor’s house. And on Tuesday afternoon, they walked him onto a trailer bound for the new shelter.

The team headed right back into the field Wednesday. “The animals who may have gotten off their chains or were loose are starting to come out,” said The HSUS’s Chris Schindler. “Now that they know it’s safe, they’re starting to come out. They’re looking for food. … And I think over the next few days we’re going to see even more of that, which is imperative because they haven’t had fresh water now in, what, four or five days. So this is a really key time to be able to get to them.”

Michael Sharp is assistant managing editor for  The HSUS's All Animals magazine.

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