Four-legged hurricane victims aren't forgotten

When the man brought his dog, a Australian shepherd mix, to the Carmelita Animal Compound in Punta Gorda, Fla., he was in tears. He and his pet had survived the hurricane together, but they had lost their home. The man explained that he had walked the streets with his dog for three days, trying to make a decision about what was best for his companion of 11 years.

The man had no home, no family, and less than $60 in his pocket. "I have no place to take her," he told Diane Webber, the Midwest regional director of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). So he turned his dog over to animal rescue workers, who placed her for adoption.

"I'm not sure I could be that brave," says Ms. Webber. "People had to make a [hard] decision to give up the pet so that it has a quality of life that they're not able to provide anymore."

It is a scene that has been repeated many times across Florida in the past six weeks because of the four hurricanes that have struck the state. But animal rescue experts and local shelters have pitched in to do whatever it takes to aid four-legged disaster victims.

Webber traveled to Florida from her home in Iowa after the state asked the HSUS to coordinate pet sheltering and rescuing efforts. Some shelters set up animal-processing units staffed around the clock by veterinarians, members of HSUS-trained Disaster Animal Response Teams, and other volunteers. Others distributed pet supplies (including food) to those in need.

After the first two storms, more than 1,300 animals were relinquished by their owners or found as strays.

In some areas of Florida, such as Charlotte County, foster-care arrangements were made so that pets could be placed in a good home or other facility until their owners could care for them again. Pets permanently surrendered by their owners were held for 48 hours in case people changed their minds, before being sent to other shelters - many of them out of state - for adoption. Lost and stray animals were kept for 30 days, to give owners the opportunity to find them. Then unclaimed healthy animals were put up for adoption.

Webber isn't sure what happened to the Australian shepherd dog whose owner had to give it up, but since the dog was healthy and well cared for, she is hopeful it found a good home. People have been eager to adopt the four-legged hurricane victims.

"There were hundreds of agencies working together in cooperation," says Debra Parsons-Drake, executive director of Suncoast Humane Society. "I believe truly that that's the only reason that we can say that no adoptable animal has been euthanized because of these storms. When we all worked together, more lives were saved."

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