Hurricane

How the Miami Heat helped save these puppies after Hurricane Irma

Miami Heat help shelters fly animals out to make room for Irma's displaced pets

The Miami HEAT teamed up with the Golden State Warriors and FedEx to airlift over 100 pre-Hurricane Irma pets from local Miami and Monroe County animal shelters to no-kill animal shelters in Oakland, California. Due to the severe impact to the Sou
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The Miami HEAT teamed up with the Golden State Warriors and FedEx to airlift over 100 pre-Hurricane Irma pets from local Miami and Monroe County animal shelters to no-kill animal shelters in Oakland, California. Due to the severe impact to the Sou

Hurricanes unite us in the strangest ways, as anyone in South Florida knows.

You know what else unites us? Puppies.

At the very least, puppies — and adult dogs and cats — brought together a few different entities Friday at Miami International Airport, where a FedEx plane landed, full of medication for low-income patients in the wake of Hurricane Irma via the humanitarian group Direct Relief.

But the plane wasn’t flying back to Oakland, California, empty. Thanks to a partnership between FedEx, Direct Relief, Miami-Dade Animal Services, the Miami Heat and the Golden State Warriors, more than 100 animals were traveling west to find new homes.

The puppies, blissful as only puppies can be, yipped and yowled, wagged their tails, yawned, ate grass and were brutally, painfully adorable. Everyone was smitten.

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David Bronczek, president and chief operating officer of FedEx, cuddles with one of the rescue puppies about to board a plane to California. Emily Michot emichot@miamiherald.com

David J. Bronczek, president and chief operating officer of FedEx Corp., was just about ready to take home a new friend. He’s a dog lover whose pet Boulder (Bo for short) has his own Facebook page. “He’s got more friends than me,” Bronczek admits, adding that FedEx was thrilled to be able to be a part of the rescue.

These dogs and cats aren’t the first animals rescued from Miami-Dade shelters since Hurricane Irma struck Florida. On Wednesday, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals relocated 100 unowned shelter animals from the big county shelter in Doral to an emergency shelter in Duncan, South Carolina.

Director Alex Muñoz said the shelter was overwhelmed before the storm.

“We had maybe 50 calls about tethered animals,” he said, adding that this is the first storm in which four South Florida shelters accepted pets, with almost 2,000 people checking into one of them.

“There have been lessons learned,” he said. “There’s a heightened awareness now. Before there was no focus on pets in a storm, but that has changed.”

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Miami Heat captain Udonis Haslem, who has three dogs of his own, holds one of the rescue puppies about to board a FedEx plane to California. Emily Michot emichot@miamiherald.com

Many of the animals came from Miami-Dade, but Manatee County shelter workers also brought around 30 animals, and the county sent volunteers to the Stock Island SPCA in the Florida Keys to pick up 30 cats as well. The animals will be sent to the Peninsula Humane Society in Oakland, the Marin Humane Society and a shelter in Vancouver, Washington.

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, wearing a Heat “Culture” T-shirt, said he was moved by the plight of the animals.

“There were so many horrific stories of dogs left behind before the storm,” he said.

Spoelstra has a soft spot for the county shelter: He and his wife adopted their mutt Rosie there.

“We don’t have any idea what kind of dog she is,” he said. “She’s about 10 pounds, some kind of terrier.”

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A rescue puppy from MIami-Dade animal services isn’t even as big as Udonis Haslem’s basketball shoe. Emily Michot emichot@miamiherald.com

Miami-born Heat player and captain Udonis Haslem measured a puppy against his shoe (if you’re counting, they were close to the same size). He cuddled the dog for the cameras and joked, “I think my other dogs would be jealous if they saw this.”

Haslem also said that most Heat players left town before the storm — “even Hassan [Whiteside]” — but he stayed in his Southwest Ranches home (his family evacuated).

“I have tremendous respect for Mother Nature,” he said, “but I spent a lot of money on it. I’m going down with my ship.”

Thomas Tighe, the president and CEO of Direct Relief — which Tighe says is the only nonprofit licensed to distribute prescription medications in all 50 states and often works with FedEx — marveled at the partnership. Direct Relief has also been supplying medication for people in the Virgin Islands and other Caribbean countries hit hard by Irma.

“Transporting animals — it’s not something I thought we’d be doing,” he said. “But it’s great.”

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Dogs were put in crates for their flight to Oakland, California, where they will go to no-kill shelters (and hopefully find homes). Emily Michot emichot@miamiherald.com

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