Hurricane Ida has caused people to lose a lot, from things as replaceable as electrical service and refrigerators full of food to more permanent items like homes and property, and for some families, their pets.
Animal transporters staged mass evacuations of dogs and cats from Louisiana animal shelters in Pike County on Monday and this morning.
They loaded up animals from Vermillion and Iberia parishes and Gonzales, La., into vans bound for New York’s Hudson Valley. This morning they were loading up a plane with about 200 dogs at the McComb-Pike County Airport to send out of state.
“These are animals that were (in shelters) prior to the storm,” said Jessica Cameron of the Mississippi Animal Project and Louisiana Humane Society, who is helping organize the transports.
Since Ida struck, the shelters have become even more crowded with more strays and pets given up by their owners who now have no place to keep their animals, she said.
“We’re making room for these guys. These dogs have been in the shelter for months,” Cameron said. “We’re trying to move them out so they can have room to take in owner surrenders or having to hold pets.”
The animal evacuation has sent 714 dogs and cats out of the hurricane-affected area since last Thursday “and we have 1,003 scheduled to go by Wednesday,” Cameron said.
Cameron said it’s a heartbreaking situation to see families have to give up their pets because they’ve also lost their homes to the hurricane.
“They’re living in a pop-up tent or Red Cross shelter and they don’t have a place for their dogs or cats, and the (animal) shelters are having to hold them for them and these guys are making room for these storm animals,” Cameron said. “A few of them were surrendered — the family lost everything and they’re moving out of state or they’re moving with family members and can’t bring their pets due to the storm.”
Animal shelter workers from Louisiana met up with a transport van filled with kennels at Nunnery Veterinary Clinic on Highway 98 west of Summit on Monday. Cameron said Pike County, with an airport and interstate access — and a relatively uninterrupted supply chain in Ida’s aftermath — is a good launch pad for the operation.
“We have a little bit of gas here,” she said.
As animal shelter workers from Louisiana walked their dogs for a bathroom break and got in some last belly rubs before saying good bye, Alice Gill of Macon was organizing her panel van. Her animal transport company, Southern Pup, has already made two runs in the evacuation effort and she was getting ready for the long drive to New York.
“They’ll be there tomorrow morning by this time. It’s roughly 24 hours,” Cameron said.
She noted that the animal shelter workers from Louisiana, where gas and electricity remain rare a week after Ida hit, had to leave as early as 5 a.m. in some instances to make it for the hand-off.
Cindy Hunt, who brought dogs from Abbeville, La., said the transports will bring needed relief to her shelter.
“We’re totally overcrowded. This is a godsend,” she said.
Monique McCullough of the Mississippi Animal Project said it’s fortunate that out-of-state shelters are taking in the pets, considering they’re starting to get in a bind for space, too.
“Adoptions have bottomed out. Nobody’s adopting dogs, even up in the north right now,” she said. “The South, unfortunately, has been dependent on, ‘Hey, let’s send our dogs up north,’ when now we’re seeing the last two months transports have halted. We’re very lucky these groups are making room to take dogs.”
Hurricanes notwithstanding, McCullough said the problem of strays, a booming population of feral offspring and neglect have been around for a long time, and it’s the people, not the animals, that need to change.
“I hope we kind of realize we’ve got to figure out the game plan,” she said. “We cannot continue to transport the animals out. It’s not a permanent solution. We’re going to have to have the community as a whole to focus on spaying and neutering. We can’t transport our way out of a problem, and as sad as it is we can’t even euthanize our way out of a problem.