Several animal rescue organizations were deployed to Eastern North Carolina communities in the wake of Hurricane Matthew’s landfall there. So far, Brother Wolf Animal Rescue, both in Asheville and in Marion County, S.C., has recovered about 400 animals since the hurricane struck. The Durham County Sheriff’s Department and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department had rescued 51 and 16 animals, respectively, as of Oct. 19 — including dogs, cats and a pet rabbit.
Brother Wolf to the rescue
“Our search-and-rescue team had only been back from the Louisiana flood relief efforts for about a week when Hurricane Matthew started bearing down,” says Paul Berry, executive director of BWAR.
“We have a chapter organization in Marion County, SC, and the county shelter there is in a low flood plain. So in advance of the storm, our staff helped move nearly 200 shelter animals to higher ground at a make-shift relief shelter across town,” he continues. “The old county shelter did end up flooding, and we’re told the foundation has significant damage.”
In response to the flooding, WNC’s Brother Wolf Animal Rescue partnered with Pilots N Paws as well as organizations such as Kinship Circle and Tri-State County Animal Response Team from Missouri and Ohio, respectively. Through their combined efforts, hundreds of adoptable animals were evacuated from vulnerable shelters in North Carolina and South Carolina to inland facilities in cities like Charlotte and Raleigh, and even as far as Georgia, Maryland and Connecticut, thereby freeing up space for pets of families temporarily displaced by the hurricane.
“We had pilots who volunteered to fly into the Mullins Airport in Marion County [S.C.] and transport shelter animals out of there that way,” Berry says. BWAR also evacuated over two dozen shelter animals from nearby Columbus County, N.C., for the same reasons.
The Humane Society of the United States coordinated with its own emergency placement partners.
“We moved nearly 90 adoptable animals from the Wayne County Animal Adoption and Education Center to make room for pets evacuated due to the impacts of the storm,” says Erica Geppi, North Carolina state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “We are also working with Lenoir County to assist transporting adoptable animals from their shelter to make additional space for pets evacuating from the flooding, and our volunteer network of district leaders has been organizing supply drives to support shelters impacted by the severe flooding.”
Immediately after the hurricane blew through, search-and-rescue teams from organizations all over the Southeast deployed. These efforts were coordinated by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, explains Melissa Knicely, public information officer for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Animal Care & Control Division.
“Their emergency management team initiated a conference call with a large number of organizations several days before the hurricane made landfall,” says Knicely, who added that the teleconference focused on compiling available resources and personnel for search-and-rescue efforts and to build an inventory of facilities able to provide animals shelter and medical care. “They gather the information early and can match the needs the best.”
Knicely also serves as the communications chairperson for the N.C. Animal Federation, a nonprofit coalition of animal welfare organizations that provides training and resources to its member groups. In all, five NCAF member organizations deployed volunteer teams to Edgecombe, Lenoir, Pitt and Robeson counties. Six more organizations, like the Cashiers-Highlands Humane Society and the Yancey County Humane Society, remained on standby for support, while also collecting supply and monetary donations for the relief efforts.
“We were unexpectedly surrounded by water for five days after the storm,” says Mendy Morris, assistant director of the Robeson County Humane Society in Lumberton. “There was extensive damage to the city’s water treatment facility, so bottled water was necessary for both human and animal consumption.”
For shelters hit by the hurricane, donations from outside organizations are critical to care for the animals following the storm.
“These donations of food, water, linens and other supplies have not only sustained us but has enabled us to also help those in the community who need food or water for their pets,” says Morris.
When the dam broke
As Matthew pressed close, many North and South Carolina residents thought they would have to leave their homes for only one or two days, deeming it safe to leave pets behind, Berry says.
“As the rivers rose and began to crest about 48 hours after the hurricane came through, a dam broke in Lumberton, releasing a huge rush of water which completely flooded the city of Nichols, South Carolina, in Marion County,” he says. “A lot of the damage came from the dam break, and nobody saw it coming. That was a really sad outcome.”
BWAR deployed an animal care team that worked inside various shelters and two search-and-rescue teams on boats in Marion County, but fallen trees prevented even boats from accessing every home. Many concerned pet owners solicited BWAR’s help through social media, Berry says.
“Our team in Asheville fielded those requests and relayed the addresses to our search-and-rescue teams,” he adds. For the first several days, the search-and-rescue teams, made up of volunteers from all over the country, worked 14-16 hours a day.
“These guys were calling from the field in tears, talking about a rescue they had just gotten through,” Berry recalls. “There was a lot of sadness out there that kind of weighed them down, but it also fueled them. They would be searching for one animal for three hours. First, they couldn’t find the house, then they can’t get inside, then there’s no cat in there. A few hours later, they finally text you a picture of one of them holding a little gray cat that’s terrified and skinny.”
In all, BWAR spent more than $50,000 on flood relief efforts in Marion County alone, he says, and the organization hopes to recoup some of those costs at their annual “Howloween Walkathon” this Saturday.
For some people, especially the elderly, a pet may be the only family they have, Berry notes. Many homes in Nichols were submerged in more than 5 feet of water, but that didn’t matter to the families Berry encountered.
“Not a single time did anybody say, ‘How does my house look?’” he notes. “All they wanted to know was that their pet was OK.
“The residents had the clothes they were wearing when they left their homes, and that’s pretty much all they had,” Berry continues. “The gratifying part was reuniting people with their pets. The rest of it was just a big, wet, sad mess.”