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When Disaster Strikes
 Posted: 09/21/17 3:09 PM by Shelly Simmons

You know Greenville County Animal Care as your local animal shelter. You probably don’t know us as a disaster relief center. We partner with several national and regional organizations to assist with disaster relief in times of need. When Hurricane Irma appeared to be headed for the southeast, our team sprang into action.

On a regional level, we have a partnership with Charleston Animal Society.  When they need our aid because their facility is being evacuated or because they are assisting other low-country shelters in evacuating and they contact us for help to move animals from those high-risk areas, we work with them hand-in-hand with whatever their needs are.

Recently, Charleston Animal Society asked for our help for just that reason.  They were providing assistance to low-country and other coastal shelters in North Florida to evacuate their adoptable shelter pets.  These are shelters that are prone to flooding, and this was done in anticipation of Hurricane Irma’s arrival back when storm paths were predicting a direct hit on the east coast, including South Carolina.  Our staff sprang into action and coordinated a transport flight for 16 kittens and 1 very happy Beagle named Bagel to come up to Animal Care, where they were all placed for adoption.

Another very important and rewarding partnership we have is with The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) Animal Rescue Team.  Not to be confused or affiliated with our local humane society, this national organization has a special team that works with emergency management offices, animal shelters, local officials in the affected areas of disasters, and emergency placement partners all throughout the United States that help evacuate animals. 

We have quite a unique relationship with the HSUS Animal Rescue Team in that Greenville County Animal Care acts as the “hub” for animals that are being evacuated from affected areas and moved to placement partners all throughout the country.  What does it mean to be one of the hand-full of hub shelters throughout the United States in times of disaster? Our facility in Greenville becomes a stop-over where pets are examined by our medical staff, receive health certificates for the endpoint state they are headed, and most importantly, pets are given a much needed rest break from their journey before moving on to their final destination.  The following day, our team meets up with emergency placement partners and/or takes the animals to the local airports and meets up with the pilots who will take them to their placement partners. 

We load up all of the evacuees in carriers, place them in transport vans or planes for their final journey, organize all of their paperwork to ensure they get to the proper destination, and try not to show too much emotion and wave goodbye as they drive/fly off into the sunrise. (I know…it’s supposed to be “into the sunset” but it’s normally very early in the morning when these transports happen!)

This is a massive undertaking for an agency that also operates the largest full-service, open admission shelter in the state of South Carolina.  We are not only taking in evacuated pets during this time, we are still taking in the stray and homeless pets in the Upstate, and we are doing so with the same amount of staff and volunteers.

In just the past two weeks, we have helped 162 Irma evacuees to safety, and there are still more animals that need evacuated from Florida.  With the news of Hurricane Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico and other nearby islands, we will surely be asked to assist again.

And still, this is not the only way we are helping right now.  The health and safety of animals is the first priority for animal shelters across the country. In order to assist our friends at the ASPCA with hurricane evacuees, we're mobilizing staff and volunteers to answer their pleas for some much needed help.

The ASPCA has set up a temporary shelter in Duncan, SC to house animals that have been displaced because of the storm. They've also opened a distribution center that is sending essential supplies to any shelters affected. We've had 4 staff and volunteers from Greenville County working 7 days a week to help get these animal shelters some much needed assistance on their long journey to recovery and will continue to do so until the emergency shelter is no longer needed.

Occasionally, evacuated animals aren’t able to go on their transports.  Sometimes it’s because there wasn’t enough room on the placement partners’ vans or planes for all of them as originally planned.  Other times the animals had an illness like an upper respiratory infection (a “cold”) that prevents our veterinarians from signing a health certificate that enables the animal to travel across state lines. 

In these situations, Animal Care steps up yet again to help.  We keep these animals here and we place them for adoption.  So far we have kept and placed about 45 evacuated pets for adoption and we will surely have more coming in that will need a home here in the Upstate.  We rely on our community to help by coming to their aid and adopting them or adopting other animals in our shelter so that we can continue to make room for more evacuees during this unpredictable and tumultuous hurricane season where our services are being needed more than ever before.

Above all, we couldn't do all of this without the amazing animal lovers that our community is so proud to call our own here at Greenville County Animal Care.  I am amazed every day that I get to call these people my team, my colleagues, and my friends.



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