A special delivery arrived Sunday afternoon for two Chattanooga animal shelters.
Nearly 50 dogs and puppies displaced by Hurricane Harvey arrived at the Humane Educational Society and McKamey Animal Center. A van from the MuttNation Foundation, country singer Miranda Lambert's nonprofit pet rescue organization, dropped the dogs off after picking them up in Tulsa, Okla., where they were taken after evacuation from Houston and other areas hit by the hurricane.
Dogs of all sizes and colors were unloaded. And as volunteers attached their leashes and took them out, their different personalities started to light up. Some were still shy, while others couldn't contain their excitement. Volunteers walked them around to use the bathroom and stretch their legs, and some took the dogs on runs around the block.
Chris Rust, one of the transporters, said that over the next few weeks or months the MuttNation Foundation will be moving animals around the country to make room for more coming in from affected areas.
Both HES and McKamey are coordinating with the Humane Society of the United States to send volunteers to parts of Texas and Louisiana to pick up pets. A group of HES volunteers set out for San Antonio, Texas, on Saturday morning and are expected back later this week with about 25 dogs. McKamey sent a group to St. Landry Parish, La., on Aug. 30. That group was back with 17 dogs within a day.
So far, only dogs have been arriving at both HES and McKamey, but directors said they are expecting to receive cats, too.
HES Executive Director Bob Citrullo said most of the dogs will be ready for adoption on Tuesday or Wednesday. They were already in shelters, meaning they are likely already vetted and ready to go to permanent homes. He expects the transports to continue for months, he said.
"It's hard on [the pets]," Citrullo said. "They don't know what's going on."
McKamey Executive Director Jamie McAloon also expects the pet railroad to last for several months. She said many of the dogs that arrived there Sunday test positive for heartworms and may not be available for adoption for a few weeks.
She said McKamey has a full veterinary clinic on site. The three staff veterinarians found health problems in many of the new arrivals including flea allergies and bedsores, probably due to being on hard cement surfaces for extended periods.
Before the 17 dogs arrived Sunday, McKamey was at maximum capacity with 500. Over the weekend, however, McAloon said the center had a flood of adoptions and 325 foster applications, freeing up 176 kennels.
"If we hadn't had so many people come and empty our kennels, we wouldn't have been able to do this," she said.
Several fosterers took pets home and decided overnight to keep them, McAloon said.
"I don't think we'll be getting many of them back," she said, laughing.
Citrullo said HES had about 500 animals in the shelter, plus a military-style tent set up in a parking lot. Giant fans were placed at each end to cool off and circulate the air inside. Several rows of dog crates filled the tent, and volunteers are set to come in shifts to clean, feed and walk the dogs.
"We started out with just 18 crates and now we have 62 or more, all provided by people donating or buying them off of our wish list," said Adrienne Koon, a volunteer coordinator with HES.
The staff and volunteers at both shelters are grateful for the outpouring of community support.
"We live in a very animal-friendly city," McAloon said. "We had people come in just to let us know they were here to support us and help wherever they can. Some even brought food and drinks for our staff and volunteers who've been here long hours."
But the shelters still need help, volunteers and supplies.
"Right now one of our biggest needs is laundry detergent," Koon said. "We've gotten so many donations for blankets and other great things, but we're going to have to do laundry at some point."
McAloon said McKamey needs monetary donations to help pay for the veterinary care, and big dog leashes and toys.
"You don't really think about it, but that's what these animals need to keep them occupied," she said. "If they have a chew toy or something like rawhide, it helps them. If we give them some of the smaller toys we have now, they'll be destroyed within an hour."
The shelters also need foster homes willing to take in big dogs.
"We don't need foster homes for the small ones right now," McAloon said, adding that small dogs and puppies get adopted pretty quickly.
McKamey asks for a minimum of 10 days of foster care. Information on a pet's behavior and temperament gathered by fosterers can help an animal get adopted faster.
"Even if someone can foster for only 10 days, that increases that pet's adoption chances by 100 percent," McAloon said.
Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at email@example.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.