Chattanooga animal shelters are once again prepping for the arrival of furry hurricane evacuees. And over the next few days, McKamey Animal Center and the Humane Educational Society are expecting up to 180 animals between the two of them.
The Humane Society of the United States has been working with a network of shelters in surrounding states to empty shelters in areas expected to be hit by Hurricane Florence. Those animals are being transported to hub shelters in Greenville, South Carolina, where they'll be picked up by volunteers.
"If they can empty the shelters in the impacted areas, they're empty and ready for any of the animals that need to go there so that their owners can find them," McKamey Executive Director Jamie McAloon said Wednesday. " ... [Animals] will have a better chance of being reunited with their families."
McKamey has deployed two teams to Greenville so far, with its first returning at around 2 a.m. Wednesday with about 18 large dogs and eight cats. Another team hit the road Wednesday afternoon, expecting to get about 25-30 animals from that trip.
While McKamey was getting ahead of the storm, the humane society began preparing to handle the problems that come during and after the hurricane.
"Multiple animals are going to be displaced," Humane Educational Society Executive Director Bob Citrullo said. "We're waiting on a big tent to be set up out back, similar to what we did a year ago."
Last year, both shelters opened their doors and sent teams to parts of Texas, Louisiana and Florida to pick up animals from areas affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
"Chattanooga is really an animal-friendly community," McAloon said. "In an eight-day period, 200 animals were either fostered or adopted out of our shelter."
Of all the animals that were fostered, McAloon said, fewer than 10 percent came back.
"Harvey was our training ground," McAloon said. "With Florence, this is our third hurricane in 12 months."
She said her team has learned to efficiently triage the animals coming in and register them with the shelter.
"We all looked at each other, and were going, 'Oh my God, we hate to think that we're becoming experts at working on animals in disasters, but it would appear so,'" she said with a chuckle. "I mean, it was a very smooth operation."
But it was Hurricane Katrina that brought about the creation of the transport networks.
"Katrina changed the way [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and government agencies responded because now they incorporate family pets in the rescue of the humans," McAloon said. "The fact that we were ripping these animals out of those communities during Katrina before the owners had a chance to find them really was devastating."
And with hurricanes since then, animal rescue groups started freeing up space in local shelters in order to keep animals in the areas where their families are.
"We've learned a lot," Citrullo said. "The No. 1 thing is be proactive, get involved early. You have time with hurricanes. You know they're coming."
Now as McKamey and HES await the arrival of Florence evacuees, they're again in need of community support.
McKamey is in need of dry dog food, toys, treats and gasoline gift cards for the teams who will be driving to Greenville. HES also needs items including paper towels, newspapers and bath towels. Wish lists for both organizations can be found on their websites, heschatt.org and mckameyanimalcenter.org.
Monetary donations also are needed, as medical care for each animal can get very costly, Citrullo said. Last year, the humane society took in 99 animals.
"We saw almost upwards of $20,000 worth of animal care that was required, and I have to assume we're going to see similar things," he said. "A lot of it is parasites and skin problems, but also animals come in that are heartworm positive."
Once an animal is under their care, Citrullo said, that animal becomes their responsibility and they're required to treat it. Heartworm treatment can range from $300-$400, he said, and about just under half of the 99 animals were heartworm positive.
Most of that money comes from community donations, Citrullo and McAloon said.
"All of us feel so helpless when you hear about the animals that were victims of the hurricanes, but this is a great way to actually have some impact," McAloon said.
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