GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Officials with Clay County Animal Care and Control are assessing the damage to the local animal community in the wake of Hurricane Irma making its way through the …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Officials with Clay County Animal Care and Control are assessing the damage to the local animal community in the wake of Hurricane Irma making its way through the area.
Animal Control Director Christina Sutherin said one unfortunate aspect of Hurricane Irma that officials are learning is that numerous Clay County residents evacuated their homes without taking their pets with them. She said one horse perished in the flooding at Black Creek and she and two staff members rescued another injured horse by kayak on Falcon Run in Middleburg.
These events come after Monday’s daring rescue of the dogs and cats at the shelter near Penney Farms.
Sutherin and staff went to the shelter around 8 a.m. on Sept. 11 to check on the animals, give them treats and blankets and try and calm them in the storm. What they didn’t count on was waist-deep water that appeared to not stop coming.
“The water wasn’t quite in the cat area, but it was coming in the back door,” Sutherin said. “Within 45 minutes, the water rose to a point where we were swimming animals out of our shelter. I’m just thankful that our staff was there – our people risked life and limb to get out there.”
Sutherin said she is grateful for the help the shelter received from The U.S Coast Guard, Clay County Sheriff’s Office and Clay County Fire Rescue in removing the animals to safety.
“I am so thankful for the way everybody just came together,” she said.
Denise Deisler, executive director of the Jacksonville Humane Society, said she learned about the Clay County shelter flooding via social media and reached out to help. The Jacksonville shelter told Clay County Animal Care and Control they could take in 20-30 dogs and 20-30 cats. By 7 p.m. Monday night, Jax Humane took in 27 dogs and 32 cats, which are still at the Beach Boulevard facility. However, Deisler said the Clay pets will “go north” as the Jax Humane shelter prepares to take in other animals from more hard hit areas of South Florida.
“They all checked out in good health. Some seemed stressed, but they are all healthy animals that can be adopted out,” Deisler said.
Deisler said the facility was able to take in the Clay animals because it had already evacuated 30 dogs and 30 cats under their care to the Lynchburg, Virginia affiliate of the Humane Society and had another 40-50 animals go to foster homes due to having medical needs.
Deisler said she learned a lesson from what happened in Houston with the animal welfare community and the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. She described the strategy employed by Houston-area shelters as “a genius move,” which involved shipping their animals out to other shelters.
Sutherin said the Clay animals that had been in custody were past the time required for surrender and will not be returning to Clay County, but will be going to no-kill shelters and other animal welfare partners throughout the U.S. And on Tuesday, Sutherin said, Animal Control made contact with four pet owners and reunited them with their pets.
Meanwhile, the Clay animals’ rescue doesn’t stop with Jax Humane. One other organization involved was Jacksonville-based Pit Sisters, a general animal shelter on San Jose Boulevard.
“I got the call [Monday] that the shelter was under water and they had to evacuate all the animals and that they needed help so I called the two vets that I use and asked, ‘Hey can you take a bunch of dogs and cats temporarily until we can figure out what to do with them?’ and they said yes,” said Jennifer Deane, Pit Sisters’ executive director.
Deane said her organization took in 16 dogs and 14 cats from Clay County
“They had to evacuate 101 animals and they actually had to swim the dogs out to save them,” Deane said. “It was bad, it was bad. I’ve been here for over 40 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Sutherin said the flooding of the State Road 16 shelter does not necessarily speed up the timetable to replace the aging Clay County Animal Care and Control facility. She said the current Clay County Board of County Commissioners has made a new shelter one of its priorities.
“All of the commissioners have agreed before this that we do need a new shelter. I think that they’ve all agreed on that. I don’t know how much this will speed up the process. It’s a serious issue …might move up on the priority but it was on the Top 5 priority to begin with.”
Sutherin said she knew the aging facility would lose power during Irma, but was not expecting the flooding. Now, along with assessing the damage to the stray pet community, she and her staff will be assessing the damage to the building.
“We are still answering calls. As we get animals in we will post them to our Faceboo page if anyone is missing their animal. If someone is missing animal, email us a picture,” Sutherin said.
In the meantime, Sutherin said, Animal Control is operating out of facilities at the Clay County Fairgrounds. She has fielded calls from the United State Humane Society and Petco that are offering to help. Deisler said the national organization can provide a temporary mobile animal shelter to help with pet rescue efforts.
“We don’t know the extent of the damage to our shelter,” Sutherin said.
Staff writer Jesse Hollett contributed to this report.