Them Before Us: Shelter staff care for animals while facing disaster

by Eunice Grande 

 

As the powerful Hurricane Florence approached the coast of North Carolina, mandatory evacuations forced people to leave the only place they knew as home. Hurricane Florence picked up momentum and drowned many cities, but the brave people working with emergency services stay behind. Firemen, policemen, paramedics, and animal service workers faced the storm and prioritized the safety of others.

Laurie Hubik, an animal care specialist at the Onslow County Animal Services, fulfilled her duty and cared for animals that would otherwise be left behind. “My well-being went out the window,” stated Hubik. “Food was in very short supply, so my usual diet of fruits and veggies had to be sacrificed, and vitamins had to supplement.” A healthy diet was far from the only luxury sacrificed.  “[We got] hardly any sleep” continued Hubik, “The animals came first, and we were able to care for them well with a well-planned out supply of food, cleaning items and just some TLC.” Hubik along with her team worked diligently to relocate their entire facility to a temporary animal shelter at a local high school.

Efforts were great but proved to be insufficient. Many animals were left behind, and leaving behind a pet can be like leaving behind part of your family. Hubik mentioned,  “I have no idea how many total animals were saved, but there were 45-65 in our emergency shelter at any given time (it was a revolving door of new ones coming in and others leaving as their owners found places to go).”

Hurricane Florence reached and affected several counties, and the damage left behind takes a community effort to clean up. Hubik stated, “Pender County is the county below us, and where I live. They also flooded terribly in the days following the actual hurricane.” Unlike the neighboring county, Hubik and her team were able to recuperate from the damages so the Onslow facility is now open and running again.

In the future, North Carolina can only be better prepared, but many of the shelters rely on volunteers, which can be hard in times of desperation because people think about their safety first. Hubik worked in the Binghamton area in New York and she was surprised to see the lack of help. She mentioned, “Having been through this in Binghamton, NY, I was very disappointed to see the lack of volunteers here.  In Binghamton, 1/2 of our flood evacuation at the Broome County Humane Society was done by volunteers. We had virtually none come forward here. Likely due to the mandatory evacuation and curfews, though.” Other resources were there to provide support but of course, it was limited. “I heard that HSUS and PETA came to help, but did not see them first hand.  We relied on county water rescue teams, our Animal Control Officers, police, & Good Samaritans to retrieve animals.” Hubik continued.

As the patterns in climate become unpredictable, we can expect more disasters like Hurricane Florence. The Onslow County is in need of supplies and other shelters in the area need monetary donations to rebuild their facilities.

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