When Hurricane Irma – a fearsome storm that threatened all of Florida – came barreling into the US mainland this September, the Humane Society of Broward County (HSBC) was ready.

HSBC not only weathered the massive storm but also sprang into action to help other areas of the state that were devastated by the hurricane — all thanks to long hours of smart planning and preparation by HSBC’s dedicated team.

As the hurricane swept through the Caribbean Sea, HSBC staff began preparations to open a pet friendly shelter in Tamarac. Staff began registering eligible residents for HSBC’s shelter at the start of hurricane season on June 1, 2017, but registrations were kicked into high-gear on Tuesday, Sept. 5 — almost a week before the storm hit Fort Lauderdale – when people began to worry about the storm’s intensity.

Meanwhile as forecasters predicted that the then-Category Five hurricane could make a direct hit on the Fort Lauderdale region, HSBC began a massive effort to transport 164 shelter animals to California to ensure their safety. The transport also created much-needed space in the HSBC shelter so we would be ready to house any pets displaced by the hurricane.

“This was a tremendous undertaking,” HSBC President and CEO Christopher Agostino said. “We wanted to be prepared as much as possible for after the storm and to be able to help our community.”

HSBC Staff Veterinarian Dr. Rimme Singh and her team examined the animals to ensure they were healthy enough to travel. The medical staff also made sure all 164 animals had proper documentation to travel and were implanted with microchips. Workers cleaned and assembled scores of pet carriers for the flight.

In the early morning hours of Thursday, Sept. 7, the staff loaded the animals onto a Wings of Rescue plane at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport days before Hurricane Irma began lashing Florida. HSBC worked with Tony LaRussa Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek, California, to place the animals with the proper agencies on the West Coast.

With the sun rising over Fort Lauderdale, HSBC staff’s work had just begun. Only a few hours later, employees readied our shelter to receive animals from the Upper Keys Animal Shelter. HSBC agreed to house 55 cats and five dogs at our more secure shelter during the storm. After Irma tore through the low-lying Keys, causing billions of dollars in damage, HSBC took over ownership of the animals. Twenty-three of those dogs and cats have already found permanent homes in Broward County.

Later that same day, HSBC opened its pet friendly shelter in Tamarac. For the next four days, staff members worked around the clock caring for 300 animals and their owners as the storm raged outside. Throughout the preparations and the storm itself, employees used social media to keep the public updated about the HSBC’s shelter and other pet friendly shelter locations run by Broward County.

Meanwhile, at the HSBC’s headquarters on Griffin Road, a small crew cared for the remaining animals and took in those displaced by the storm. And when the hurricane passed, the HSBC admissions department began to reunite those displaced animals with their owners. Almost two weeks after the storm, their work continues.

While the hurricane eventually veered west and spared Fort Lauderdale from the worst effects of the storm, Irma still had a significant impact on HSBC operations. The main shelter lost power during the weekend of the storm. However because the building was equipped with a backup generator, the remaining animals were kept safe and comfortable. The Griffin Road shelter closed to the public on the eve of the storm, Friday, Sept. 9, and reopened our admissions department on Monday 9am, we opened to the public for all other programs and services on Thursday, September 14 once power was restored.

Because of this relatively smooth recovery process, HSBC was well placed to help the areas hardest hit by Irma.

HSBC came to the aid of Collier County Animal Service in Naples on Friday, Sept. 15. The agency lost power and running water when the storm slammed into Florida’s West Coast. HSBC took in 35 cats and 10 rabbits from the county agency. They are now available for adoption at our shelter.

Over a period of three days starting on Friday, Sept. 15, HSBC staff members also returned to the Florida Keys region to deliver van loads of pet food and medical supplies to the Upper Keys Animal Shelter and Florida Keys SPCA locations in Marathon and Key West. HSBC delivered supplies to local veterinarian offices as well. The flow of people and goods into the Keys is still limited, making everyday items like pet food hard to obtain.

On Monday, Sept. 18, HSBC organized an effort to transfer 102 animals from five area shelters. The animals were placed with multiple organizations in Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan Minneapolis and Missouri. The transfer will help the local shelters focus on animals displaced by the storm and with luck reunite them with their owners.

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