One of the heartbreaking aspects of any evacuation is everything that must be left behind. And in the wake of Hurricane Irma, people across the Caribbean were being asked to make a singularly painful sacrifice: evacuate without their pets.
For many, it wasn’t a choice at all. After Hurricane Irma left St. Martin in shambles, Jack Schultz, 38, said he had to turn down two military evacuation flights and the offer of a boat ride because they wouldn’t let him take his mutts, Tillie and Corbin, with him.
That changed, however, as Miami-based Royal Caribbean International began offering an exit, pets included. The Majesty of the Seas — occupancy 2,767 two-legged guests — was rerouted to pick up evacuees in the U.S. Virgin Islands and St. Martin, the shared Dutch-French island in the Caribbean.
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Among the 304 people evacuated from St. Martin were also 16 pets.
The ship isn’t usually pet friendly, but this time animals were allowed to roam the decks and sleep in the cabins with their owners. The crew had also laid out oversized litter boxes on the seventh-level jogging track — not quite the poop deck, but no one was complaining.
The rescue was just half of the mission. The ship arrived in St. Martin with more than 180 pallets of aid from Puerto Rico. Amid the cargo were mountains of dog and cat food, veterinary supplies and 150 bales of hay, destined for the island’s hungry horses.
On Saturday, Michele Haggiag was sitting by the ship’s swimming pool, watching the sunrise with Bella, her Mal-Shi (a Maltese-Shih Tzu mix).
Haggiag, who was heading to South Carolina with her husband, said friends and neighbors had to leave pets with neighbors and friends as they scrambled to get off the island. Others simply abandoned the animals to their fate.
In a battered region suffering from trauma fatigue, the plight of pets still resonates. Haggiag’s voice cracked as she talked about the ability to bring her dog — another member of the family — aboard.
“I just can’t believe how we’re being treated,” she said, as Bella sat in her lap. “It’s as if we were travelers and guests, not evacuees.”