A day before Hurricane Irma ravaged parts of Southern Florida, Camden County Animal Shelter volunteer James Whiteside stood on a tarmac and watched as around 30 nervous dogs from the Sunshine State were unloaded in crates from a small plane.
The South Jersey animal shelter in Sewell had already taken in five dogs from the flooded city of Houston when Hurricane Irma swept through Florida, destroying homes and leaving millions without power. But more than 200 animals were transported to New Jersey before the storm made landfall to make room in Florida shelters for displaced pets that search and rescue crews might find.
“We took as many as we could,” said Whiteside, a Vietnam War veteran from Runnemede who has volunteered at the shelter for two years. “It’s all about finding a home for the dogs.”
Full of energy and excitement, the pets traveled for hours from Tampa, Jacksonville, and other cities in Florida before making it to St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, N.J. Whiteside and another volunteer then drove to the Morristown Municipal Airport to bring five of the Florida dogs to Sewell.
The dogs, which will be available for adoption beginning Wednesday, range from 10 months old to 5 years old. Two of them are Labrador retriever mixes, one a boxer mix, one a pit bull/hound mix, and one a border collie mix.
Also taking in animals from the recent natural disasters in the South are Voorhees Animal Orphanage and Burlington County Animal Shelter.
In Burlington County, where 10 dogs from Texas have been taken, it’s the first time the shelter has brought in animals from disaster zones. The animals are undergoing veterinarian evaluations before being put up for adoption.
“(The shelter) has been on stand-by to aid in both Harvey and Irma relief efforts with our partners the Friends of the Burlington County Animal Shelter and St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center,” Freeholder Director Bruce Garganio said.
Amid the two back-to-back storms, the Humane Society of the U.S. has relocated 1,500 dogs and cats from the storm zones to various states, including New Jersey, said Brian Hackett, state director for the group.
The Humane Society has coordinated with St. Hubert’s and Wings of Rescue to bring animals from shelters in the South to the Northeast.
Hackett said New Jersey has become a “regional hub” for the transport of the displaced animals.
“New Jersey is a leader in the transfer process,” Hackett said. “Not all of the animals stay in New Jersey, but many come through to go to places throughout New England.”
But with a total of 109 dogs in its care, Camden County Animal Shelter is nearing full capacity. Managers and volunteers at the shelter, filled with the sound of barking, hope families visit in the coming days to adopt.
“We’re doing well managing the dogs and we’re happy to bring them in,” said Executive Director Vicki Rowland. “We want to encourage people to foster these animals.”