Animal Writes
From 5 December 2004 Issue

By Michelle Rivera - [email protected] 

Meteorologists in our little corner of the world were doing their level best not to alarm anyone as a "climatological event" known as Frances was making its way in our general direction. But it was very difficult in those few days preceding the landfall of Hurricane Frances to think of much else and I was near hysterics, I am not ashamed to say. Having lived through Hurricane Andrew and witnessing the near total devastation of our neighbors to the west in Punta Gorda at the hands of Hurricane Charley a mere week or so before, I was not one to be complacent about hurricanes.

How can you be when you have animals depending on you for their safety and well being and you know that, if the order to evacuate is given, you can't bring them to shelters with you ?

There are many, many issues to consider when a hurricane threatens and certainly those of us with animals have additional worries at a time when most of those around us are concerning themselves with plywood, shutters and securing property. The experts tell us to fashion a survival kit and include a gallon of water for each person for seven days. If you have animals, certainly they, too, will need at least that much so you figure that into the equation. In the sub tropical heat of South Florida, air conditioning is essential. When the power goes out, a gallon of water per person per day hardly seems enough.

They tell you to be sure to go into your safe room, be it a closet or bathroom but they don't tell you how to explain to your furkids why you are suddenly acting like the village idiot and herding them all into the closet in near total darkness because the power has already failed. Incredibly, they warn us not to tie the dog outside and leave him there. (I mean, do we really need to be told that?) During Hurricane Charley, people had done so with disastrous results when the flooding began. It's hard to believe that there are some people who actually have to be told not to tie their dog outside during a hurricane but sure enough, a story emerged of a call that came into the police station complaining that a German Shepherd dog had been tied up outside a home, and the people had evacuated. The dog was picked up just an hour or so before Frances made landfall and animal cruelty charges are pending.

There were lessons learned from Andrew back in August of 1992 that helped shape some of the hurricane survival tips that were making the rounds in the days before Frances. The folks over at Animal Control came on all the major networks, which had gone "wall to wall" in their coverage about two days before Frances was expected to hit. They told us to be sure our animals had on tags, or had microchips or tattoos and that cats should be in carriers and dogs in crates "just in case."

When Frances came ashore near my home in Jupiter, Florida she came as a category two, having been downgraded from the four that we were expecting. It sounded for all the world as if a freight train was traveling through my tiny backyard. And the thing about Frances was that she was moving at a leisurely pace, drawing out the terror, dousing us with rain and battering us with wind with a ferocity that was downright frightening.

She stayed with us for a whole day and night, coming ashore in the midnight hours and slipping away silently. But it was just a tease; it was only the eye passing over our little town as we waited in dread for the second assault. Frances came back with a ferocity that rattled the windows. When she was really, truly gone, the genuine challenge began.

Millions of people were without power. One of them was my friend Mary Pat who had offered to take in the greyhounds of people who had to evacuate, and there were many of them. She had fourteen greyhounds in her little house, which was battened down and fully capable of defying a cat two hurricane. But when the power went out so did the air conditioning, of course, and in South Florida in early September that is truly a nightmare. A few of the dogs became ill and needed Gatorade and Immodium to help them struggle with symptoms of diarrhea and heatstroke. Mary Pat and her fourteen greyhounds were without power for a full week and she sobbed every day when I called her to ask what I could do. "Bring ice, please, bring ice and water" she told me, because both were in very short supply. I did what I could and we learned that greyhounds rather like the taste of kiwi-strawberry Gatorade!

The folks at Busch Wildlife Sanctuary had a dilemma as well. The electricity had gone out there too and with it went all the food supply for the seabirds. The frozen fish was no longer frozen and was spoiling fast. I called to ask if they needed anything and David, their executive director, asked if I knew anywhere to get some fish for the seabirds. "All my suppliers are without power and the birds have not eaten now for three days." There was a supplier in Miami, which is about two hours south of us and not affected by the storm, but gas was in very short supply and there was a dusk-to-dawn curfew which made it very difficult to get to Miami and back with a truckload of fish. In the end, they found some fish for the birds but several animals had died of heart failure during the height of the storm. Immediately after the storm, their animal population swelled as over two hundred animals were brought in to be treated for hurricane-related injuries. A baby squirrel had been slammed against someone's front door and was soaking wet and traumatized. Birds had become disoriented, snakes had run afoul of people's personal spaces and all were brought in for some tender loving care.

A story appeared in the Palm Beach Post about a woman who opened her door right after the storm to find a strange dog, a Rottweiler, standing there pleading with her. At first she was afraid and called to her husband in alarm. He came and saw the dog and decided that the dog was harmless and so he ventured outside to see if the rotti had a collar or tag. But the dog turned and ran into the backyard and so the homeowner followed her to see where she was going. When he arrived in his yard he found a second Rottweiler struggling to survive in the debris-infested pool. He saved the drowning dog and, at last report, both dogs were "eating them out of house and home" while their owners were tracked down.

The animals at Lion Country Safari took over the kitchen and bathrooms and the Palm Beach Zoo suffered the loss of a few animals and many, many tropical plants. I heard several reports of older animals suffering heart attacks or shock and dying at the height of the storm. These are the victims one never reads about but they are disaster victims just the same.

By far the biggest tragedy to come out of Hurricane Frances was the thousands of cattle who were standing in flooded pastures with nothing to eat and suffering from a disease that rots their feet because of the water. The farmers will no doubt be reimbursed from FEMA but I can't help feeling the tragedy of the pain of hunger and isolation those animals must be feeling.

As I write this we have just escaped a strike from Ivan and are waiting to see what Jeanne and Lisa will bring.

As for me, I am leaving for California and getting out of the way. Hurricanes are not discriminating in their total destruction of flora and fauna and humans and their habitats. In that regard, we are one with the animals.

Go on to Rastus
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