PALM HARBOR, Fla. - Animal rescue groups throughout Florida are preparing for an influx of stranded and stray animals from the Bahamas, with the first round of pets expected as early as this weekend.
The Suncoast Animal League is among the local shelters ready to take in dogs and cats. Executive Director Rick Chaboudy said the organization prepared for Hurricane Dorian relief efforts by placing the previous group of animals into foster homes, freeing up dozens of crates and cages.
Chaboudy said this might end up being one of the biggest rescue efforts to date.
"I've been through a lot of natural disasters; Katrina, going back to Andrew, so you see a lot of things," he said. "This has probably got to be as bad as any of them."
Chaboudy believes there are at least six shelters in the Bahamas that were destroyed by Hurricane Dorian, including the Humane Society of Grand Bahama.
"It really just destroyed that shelter," he said.
The Suncoast Animal League was communicating with the Humane Society of Grand Bahama as the storm approached. Six volunteers for the Bahamian organization stayed at the shelter to care for the 200 animals there. They were giving updates on Facebook when, at a little afternoon on Monday, their posts became desperate.
"The drains are not working. There is 5 feet of water in the shelter and rising. They have moved as many of the small dogs and pups they could. They currently cannot get to the cattery," a volunteer wrote.
Roughly two and a half hours later, the next post sounded worse: "Asking for immediate help from rescuers- please spread the word. There are 6 people in the shelter on Coral Road that need immediate help as they are in neck high water."
It took about 19 hours for anyone to hear from those volunteers again. They'd been rescued and were safe.
Chaboudy said it was a tense period of time as he waited to hear from his Bahamian counterparts.
"You just sit there and you imagine what these six people were going through in neck-deep water trying to save the animals. What are the animals going through? They're probably in kennels, they're in cages and their instinct is to survive," he said, adding it was great to finally hear from them. "We felt a tremendous amount of relief."
Suncoast Animal League is now in the process of collecting donations for people and pets in the Bahamas. Later this week, volunteers will bring the supplies to a cargo plane that will ship the items to families and animals in need.
It took about two hours Wednesday for the shelter's thrift shop to begin filling with donations.
"Good people make good things happen out of very bad situations," Chaboudy said.
Suncoast's executive director hopes to have its first group of animals flown-in Friday. It's unclear how long it will take for the dogs and cats to be ready for adoption.