Their homes were flooded and their lives upended, but the staff of the only animal shelter on Grand Bahama Island made sure the animals in their care who survived Hurricane Dorian found new homes far from the storm-ravaged archipelago.
About 100 dogs and cats at the Humane Society of Grand Bahama died on Sept. 2 when chest-high floodwaters from the Category 5 hurricane filled the Freeport shelter, trapping staff members and animals alike.
But many animals survived, and staffers cried tears of joy Wednesday as they helped load 159 dogs and cats onto a Florida-bound airplane at the battered airport in Freeport. Animal welfare groups had quickly partnered with the shelter to evacuate the animals after learning about the tragedy at the shelter in Freeport. Ten more dogs will be flown into Florida on Friday, said Humane Society executive director Elizabeth “Tip” Burrows.
“We had to get them out,” she said. “There had to be a reason why they survived.”
The shelter originally estimated at least 113 animals died in the flooding, but the number now stands at 97, Burrows said.
For the cats, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport was nothing more than a layover. They ultimately headed to Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, New Jersey.
The dogs are staying in Florida, evacuated to Halo No Kill Rescue Center in Sebastian. The shelter will begin to make them available for adoption starting on Sept. 27, following a two-week quarantine period. Before the dogs arrived at the shelter on Wednesday evening, the center received numerous calls from people looking to adopt them, said Allyson Bootes, director of development at Halo.
Interested animal lovers are asked to visit the shelter’s online adoption portal to see adoptable pets. Not all of the dogs — nicknamed “potcakes” in the Bahamas — will be up for adoption at the same time, pending medical reviews. Adoption fees vary.
But staff members have begun urging the public to adopt the shelter’s other dogs, so they can make room to accommodate the new arrivals. Halo typically houses about 80 dogs and it’s nearly always at capacity, so bringing in another 83 will be taxing if their current dogs don’t find homes.
The shelter is waiving adoption fees through Saturday to help, Bootes said.
“We understand they want a potcake but please come adopt one of these dogs so they can be in quarantine comfortably,” she said.
Bootes said all the dogs received medical clearances to travel to Florida. Some sustained injuries to their paw pads during the flooding, likely salt burns from gasoline-contaminated water.
Most of the dogs were flown out of Freeport on Wednesday, but 10 more were scheduled to be transported Friday because they couldn’t fit in the other plane.
The dogs range in age from 3 months old to 14 years. They include a black Labrador retriever and several pit bulls, but most of the dogs are “potcakes” — commonly known as mutts. Burrows said the nickname originated decades ago, when Bahamians cooking up traditional, bean-based plates of “peas and rice” would feed the caked-on leftover food at the bottom of the pan to begging dogs.
Ric Browde, whose nonprofit Wings of Rescue provided air travel for the evacuation, said he was struck by the devastation at Grand Bahama International Airport when he touched down in Freeport.
Buildings were leveled and the airfield was gone, he said. Customs agents worked under a tent. The only thing seemingly still intact was the runway.
“Total devastation,” he said. “There’s nothing there.”
Browde said he was inspired by the commitment of Burrows’ employees at the Humane Society, who transported dogs from the shelter to the airport.
“Despite having lost everything, they were able to just come and try to save pets because it gave some sense of normalcy and some sense of purpose for them,” he said. “Those are the true heroes.”
Browde said the dogs appeared relieved to be cool and dry in the air-conditioned plane. It was a 25-minute flight to Fort Lauderdale. The cats were placed on a separate plane bound for New Jersey.
He said it’s his hope that the potcakes’ popularity leads to speedy adoptions and forever homes.
“Hopefully they’ll become the Kardashians of pets and they’ll be flying out of shelters,” Browde said.