A day before Hurricane Irma ravaged parts of Southern Florida, Camden County Animal Shelter volunteer James Whiteside stood on a tarmac and watched as about 30 nervous dogs from the Sunshine State were unloaded in crates from a small plane.
The shelter in Sewell had already taken in five dogs from flooded Houston when Irma swept through Florida, destroying homes and leaving millions without power. 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 veteran from Runnemede who has volunteered at the shelter for two years. “It’s all about finding a home for the dogs.”
The pets traveled for hours from Tampa, Jacksonville, and other Florida cities before making it to St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, N.J. Whiteside and another volunteer then drove to 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 to 5 years old. Two of them are Labrador retriever mixes and one is 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 the Voorhees Animal Orphanage and the Burlington County Animal Shelter.
In Burlington County, where 10 dogs from Texas have been taken, it marks 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 standby 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 United States 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 worked with St. Hubert’s and Wings of Rescue to bring animals from shelters in the South to the Northeast.
Hackett said New Jersey had become a regional hub for transport of the displaced animals. “Not all of the animals stay in New Jersey, but many come through to go to places throughout New England.”
But with 109 dogs in its care, the Camden County Animal Shelter is nearing capacity. Managers and volunteers hope families visit in the coming days to adopt the animals.
“We’re doing well managing the dogs, and we’re happy to bring them in,” said Vicki Rowland, the shelter’s executive director. “We want to encourage people to foster these animals.”