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Animal sanctuaries, shelters assess damage and offer relief

Staff from Cat Depot, Mote, Save Our Seabirds and the Humane Society weathered the storm with their pawed, finned and feathered friends.

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  • | 5:05 p.m. September 12, 2017
The Humane Society of Sarasota County is lowering adoption fees to $10 as of Wednesday in order to make room for rescues.
The Humane Society of Sarasota County is lowering adoption fees to $10 as of Wednesday in order to make room for rescues.
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Their facilities were shuttered and their evacuation plans limited by the size of the storm, but as Hurricane Irma approached Florida, the staff Sarasota’s animal shelters stayed put.

Six Humane Society of Sarasota County staffers sheltered in a supply closet in its educational center, running checks on its more than 100 animals every 45 minutes.

“We did all the preps we could do and it worked out beautifully, it really did,” Adoption and Volunteer Manager Kerry Koppin said.  “The animals settled down. All the dogs settled down. The cats were chilling, even the kittens. Kittens were climbing the fences like they normally do and stuff. It was good.”

Besides some standing water in its courtyard and minor storm debris, the facility emerged unscathed on Monday morning.

“It could have been a whole lot worse,” Koppin said.

Fellow shelter Cat Depot shared in Koppin’s relief on Tuesday. After the storm, Cat Depot was left with only some minor leakage and no major damage done to the building.

“Thankfully that’s really all we sustained,” Director of Communications Claudia Harden said. “We never lost power.”

Harden said staff began preparing for Hurricane Irma last Wednesday when volunteers and staff assembled more than 100 cat carriers. This was to account for the shelter’s 96 cats in case of evacuation, but that evacuation never happened.

Instead, all the cats remained at the shelter under the care of 19 staff members and volunteers. Beginning Saturday afternoon and continuing through Monday afternoon, the group ensured the cats were never left alone or without food and water.

Part of the shelter’s emergency preparedness plan is evacuation to one of the organization’s partner shelters in Jacksonville, Orlando and Vero Beach. This was not an option due to the level of risk the animals at those respective shelters were under.

Moving forward, Harden said Cat Depot hopes to partner with shelters in northern states so that in the case of another storm of this size that affects all of Florida, the shelter’s cats can be ensured safety outside state lines.

Cat Depot's hallways were lined with more than 100 pet carriers in preparation for Hurricane Irma.
Cat Depot's hallways were lined with more than 100 pet carriers in preparation for Hurricane Irma.

While the Humane Society and Cat Depot sustained minimal damage, not all of Sarasota’s animal rescues were as lucky.

Prior to Hurricane Irma making landfall in Florida, Save our Seabirds staff spent time “battening down the hatches” in an effort to preserve as many exhibits and habitats as possible. Birds were moved indoors or to higher ground and some even went home with staff members.

Despite those efforts, however, the banyan tree that visitors see as they enter the learning center and bird walk toppled over and smashed several habitats, including the half of the “Birds of Prey” area.

“There were no animals injured,” CEO David Pilston said. “A couple of them escaped when the door blew open but other than that everyone is in good shape.”

The bird hospital and other buildings on the property didn’t suffer damage. Some bird cages were scratched but nothing major. The staff’s first step is removal of the collapsed banyan tree and then figuring everything else out. For now, they are thankful damage wasn’t worse.

“We were lucky, just like everybody,” Pilston said. “Breathing a sigh of relief.”

Across the parking lot, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium sustained no property damage aside from debris and fallen trees.

“All the animals are fine, thankfully, and we’re just dealing with the same thing everybody else is, debris, a couple trees, long, good portions of branches, and other than that we’re just trying to clean up and open our doors as soon as possible,” Mote Public Relations Manager Shelby Isaacson said.

During the hurricane, some staff members stayed with the animals and security guards were on hand as well. Right after the storm, additional staff went into the facility to assess for damage and ensure the animals had what they needed.

Ahead of Hurricane Irma, Mote moved some of their coral reefs that were at their Summerland Key Property, the Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research, to their Sarasota property. That property, also known as IC2R3, remains closed, but Mote is sending a team there to ensure the coral reefs are safe.

A banyan tree fell on top of several exhibits at Save our Seabirds. Courtesy photo
A banyan tree fell on top of several exhibits at Save our Seabirds. Courtesy photo

“That’s been or big concern, is how is IC2R3 and what can we do to get them up and running as quickly as possible,” Isaacson said.

Meanwhile, Cat Depot and the Humane Society have started to shift their sights from recovery to relief.

As part of the partnerships with other shelters, Cat Depot took in 20 kittens and 10 adult cats that evacuated from the Jacksonville Humane Society before the storm hit. Staff members from Jacksonville met employees from Cat Depot in Ocala on Thursday to pass the cats off and transport them to the Sarasota facility, where they’ll remain until they’re adopted.

Along with those 30 evacuees, the number of animals at the shelter increased again prior to the storm when Cat Depot obtained 16 cats from Sarasota County Sheriff's Office Animal Services.

The Humane Society also donated $10,000 to Sarasota County Animal Services to address medical needs.

“So every animal that is at Sarasota County Animal Services right now is being transported to our medical clinic and they are all getting free veterinary care,” Humane Society Communications Coordinator Nalani Simpson said.

But in the upcoming days, adoption is the name of the game at the Humane Society. Simpson said she is anticipating the Humane Society taking in between 50 and 100 rescues from Sarasota and cities throughout southwest Florida.

“Once we are done helping locally in our community then we are going to pulling animals in from Naples, Tampa, Miami, all the places in south Florida,” She said. “The more animals we can get out into permanent homes, the more we can start rescuing and getting medical care to. That’s really our priority right now.”



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