Yesterday, emergency officials in Horry County, South Carolina, which has been bracing for record flooding following Hurricane Florence, received a call from a couple with 12 cats. Their home was surrounded by rapidly rising waters, and they didn’t want to evacuate without making sure their animals were safe. Our Animal Rescue Team, which has been on the ground in the Carolinas since early last week, moved quickly to help, in partnership with Horry County Animal Care Center staff, a rescue team from the San Diego Humane Society, and the National Guard, who answered the call.

When rescuers arrived at the home, they found the couple frantic about their animals and grateful for the help. It was a few hours before the teams could find all of the cats, place them safely into carriers, and into a waiting vehicle to transport them out of the danger zone. Seeing this rescue in action, our team’s truck was flagged down by another resident across the street who told us she had animals who also needed urgent rescue. We pivoted to answer her call and moved four cats from her house, including five nursing kittens, to the safety of the shelter.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, our Animal Rescue Team has been supporting local officials who have been inundated by requests for help, and we are working in partnership with them to bring help and hope to families and their beloved animals. Our highly trained and technically certified staff is working closely with emergency officials and shelter partners to wade through waist-deep water to come to the aid of animals stranded and in need.

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[media-credit name="Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS" align="aligncenter" width="620"]

Our team, working with partners, helped remove 13 cats from a flooded home in Horry County, South Carolina.
Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS

[/media-credit] Our team, working with partners, helped remove 12 cats from a flooded home in Horry County, South Carolina.[/caption]

It’s been nearly two weeks since we started our work to help the animals who were in the path of Florence’s fury. After years of such work, we are well prepared to help both before a storm strikes, and in the aftermath. Before the storm hit, we arrived in the Carolinas and Virginia, working with a network of partner shelters to transport shelter animals out of harm’s way, ensuring their future out of storm-impacted areas and on to loving homes. We moved equipment and personnel near areas that would be hit the hardest.

As taxing as this work is, it is also, to our team, a heartening affirmation of the commitment of our partner shelters. Shelters in the path of the storm worked furiously to move unowned animals out of harm’s way. To do this, we called upon many of our shelter and rescue partners for help, and we have built new and valuable relationships for the future. We have, so far, facilitated the transport of close to 600 shelter animals, and our work is still continuing. Today, one of our new partners, Williamson County Animal Shelter from Franklin, Tennessee, will arrive at our hub at Greenville County Animal Care Services in South Carolina, to pick up 35 adoptable dogs and 20 adoptable cats who were moved to safety before the storm.

Greenville County Animal Services has been a vital hub for us, with several of our partners picking up directly from them. This gives them the opportunity to not only help with placement but to support states and communities with critical response services. The HSUS Animal Rescue Team ensures that receiving shelters get financial support for the placement of animals and we cover travel expenses related to their transport. This model really broadens the reach of our team during a crisis.

Earlier this week, Columbia Animal Services received an urgent call for help from the Anson County Animal Shelter in South Carolina. Their roof was caving in and the shelter was knee-deep in water. The shelter pets were transferred immediately to Columbia Animal Services, overcrowding the facility with homeless pets. Columbia Animal Services called us to see if we could facilitate a transfer so we called on our partner in Tennessee, the Humane Educational Society. Now plans are underway to move these dogs to their facility in Tennessee, along with more than 20 dogs from Columbia to help clear some space for the Florence victims. In these trying times, it is a remarkable and heartwarming display of the generosity that we see from our partners who are all stepping up to the plate and doing all they can to ensure as many animals as possible are helped.

As we continue in service to the communities and animals that need us most, we are grateful, as always, to the support of our partners, including and Halo Purely for Pets pet food, who provided funding and supplies so desperately needed for the animals. We are also extremely grateful to the Alex and Elisabeth Lewyt Charitable Trust, which has made a generous donation to the HSUS in support of our efforts on the ground to rescue and care for animals in the aftermath of Florence.

Although bolstered by the lifesaving efforts taking place in the Carolinas, we are heartbroken and devastated by newspaper reports of the millions of farm animals who have died in the flooding from Florence. It was only a year ago that we were helping provide logistical support to farmers with stranded livestock during Hurricane Harvey, so that these animals had access to fresh food and water. Although we have come a long way in understanding the impact catastrophic loss of life has on the animals and community – as seen in 2008 during the floods in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where farmers released their pigs en masse as a last-ditch attempt to let them live – it is clear that disaster planning for animals held in large numbers is far from where it needs to be for the lives affected, both human and animal. Having an emergency plan, regardless of the numbers of animals in a home, facility or farm, is the responsibility of those who are caring for them. If the sheer number of animals makes evacuation extremely difficult or impossible, then a hard look needs to be taken at the number of animals being cared for and the opportunity for them to be considered in an emergency plan. The cost of not doing so, as we can see here, has a devastating impact on the community, the environment and the animals, and reaffirms why we need to reduce the reliance on these massive factory farms.

In coming weeks, we expect to continue seeing some of the devastating after-effects of Florence. Some waters are receding in North Carolina, but in South Carolina the worst flooding is just beginning. We have staff on the ground in Horry County to help remove more animals who could be affected by the rising waters, and we will continue to answer calls for help in other areas, as they come in. Your help is crucial, so please consider making a donation to the Emergency Animal Rescue Fund. With your support, we can continue to answer the call during natural disasters, situations of extreme cruelty and neglect, and whenever animals are in need of urgent rescues.

Donate to the Emergency Animal Rescue Fund