Animal shelters overflow with pets after Florence

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Officials are still dealing with the storm’s aftermath as more strays are brought in and others wait to be adopted

WILMINGTON — In the thick of Hurricane Florence’s rain, wind and destruction, an abandoned lab mix went into labor at the New Hanover County Animal Services shelter.

The canine gave birth to eight healthy puppies under the rough conditions, defying what traditionally can jeopardize a healthy litter.

“A shelter is not designed to house anything long term, so that’s what we are facing now,” shelter supervisor Nancy Ryan said. “Most animals don’t adjust well to being caged. Now you put a mom who just gave birth in there and it’s loud and smelly … She gets antsy, which makes the puppies antsy. That’s a lot of stress.”

Luckily, Charlottesville-Albermarle SPCA made the nine-hour journey to pick up animals to be taken to other counties to be placed with families, including the new brood, which are healthy and happy today.

But before she left, the shelter staff gave the new mom a name — Florence.

Riding out the storm

Her story is one of the happy ones to come out of the hurricane, a time when tragic images of animals being rescued by emergency responders are almost certain to flood the news and social media.

As county animal services settle back into a somewhat normal routines, they are starting to take stock of how they weathered the storm.

At the New Hanover County shelter, 123 dogs and more than 50 cats took shelter at some point during the storm. Ryan called it a “mad house.”

Best Friends Animal Rescue also transported 58 animals to other counties to be placed after the storm. The Humane Society of the United States made the same accommodations for 70 animals in Brunswick County.

The latter county’s five pet-friendly shelters collectively hosted around 400 animals, while about 30 dogs were brought in prior to and during the early stages of the storm after being left behind by their owners. Add in 35 animals evacuated from Paws Place and Adam Folley Boarding Facility, along with staff members’ personal animals, and Major Tommy Tolley with the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office said the county was handling up to 700 animals at the height of the storm.

Still, Tolley said he’s proud of how well the staff worked to get animals boarded and cared for as the situation got worse before it got better.

“I don’t how it could have gone any better short of the storm missing us,” he said.

Most of those rescued were dogs and cats, but there was a few unexpected discoveries while rescuers were out in the floodwaters.

Tolley said the ASPCA saved five 500-pound pigs found pinned up in the south end of the county and brought them back on boats.

Under the circumstances, he said rescuers did exhaustive searches in deep parts of the county, facing dire conditions that required through to carry boats between pockets of floodwaters.

“The things we were tasked with during this time, most animal control officers never see in their whole career,” he said.

While the situation was, at times, frantic, Tolley said the animals were quieter and more calm than ever.

“They knew there was danger out there,” he said. “They want to get in a safe place. Back there with them, it is like the quietest place you’ve ever been.”

Still coming

Both counties are now starting to see an influx in animals abandoned or lost after the storm.

Ryan said this is because people are starting to assess their situations and animals aren’t always given priority.

“In this situation, a lot of times people realize, ‘Oh, well now I don’t have to walk my dog or change a litter box,’ and then they don’t come at all,” she said.

Additionally, Tolley said fall breeding season in beginning, meaning more kittens will be brought in.

“The storm doesn’t stop that,” he said.

For abandonment cases, Tolley said they are investigating cases where evidence of willful neglect or violation can be found, and some charges have been filed.

But the priority for both shelters is the animals, and they are still holding out as long as they can for owners to reunite with their pets.

Ryan said the state allows 14 days to pick up animals after storms before they become the county’s property.

“But this storm hung on for awhile, so we are going to give it a little longer,” she said Thursday. “That deadline would be next week and that gives pet owners ample time. We feel comfortable we have done everything way over and above what we are asked.”

Reporter Hunter Ingram can be reached at