Coastal critters evacuated ahead of Hurricane Matthew

Charleston County’s largest animal shelter has saved approximately 500 homeless dogs from the path of Hurricane Matthew, sending the animals as far away as New York and Pennsylvania, where they will be put up for adoption by a variety of rescue organizations.

The largest single transport began Thursday at 5 a.m. when 57 dogs were loaded onto a tractor trailer owned by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), bound for a 12-hour journey to their headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md.

“All of these animals have a valuable life,” said Joe Elmore, CEO at Charleston Animal Society, which arranged the transfer. “I am amazed at the coordinated effort of all of us working together. Unfortunately so many places are not organized well and these are the exact kind of animals that would be euthanized because of a lack of coordination.”

Charleston Animal Society is located about 10 miles from the coast on high ground, so it acts as a clearinghouse for homeless animals during disasters. It accepts animals from all the area shelters and then works with a rescue network that includes the HSUS, the ASPCA, and hundreds of foster families to get pets out of harm’s way.

Although it will remain closed to the public during the storm, Elmore and a small staff, including veterinarians, will live at the shelter through the weekend to care for 150 animals that have not been evacuated.

A video shows beagles, weimaraners, golden retrievers, terriers and numerous mixed breeds patiently waiting in line with a handler to board the HSUS trailer while it was still dark. Once inside, they were placed in wire cages that were stacked floor-to-ceiling.

“It has a customized suspension for a comfortable ride,” said HSUS spokesperson Sara Varsa. “They get music and independent climate control. We try to make it as stress free as possible.”

After arriving in Maryland, the animals excitedly wagged their tails to greet about 50 HSUS employees who were on standby to give pets and hugs. They were then whisked away to the partnering rescue organizations.

The Charleston Animal Society sent another group of dogs to the SPCA in Aiken, SC., which is a few hours inland and to the city of York, which is in the central part of the state.

Cats have been relocated to a cattery owned by the society.

Elmore said the transfers have freed up space in the shelter in preparation for an influx of pets that will be rescued by the SPCA after flood waters reside. The city was flooded a year ago and Elmore said he has a system in place to make sure no animal goes without rescue due to lack of space.

The Charleston Animal Society is non-profit and the only shelter in the county that takes any animal, regardless of its injury or condition. Last year, the shelter rescued more than 9,000 animals.

“On average, it costs about $377 to save an animal,” Elmore said.

The shelter runs primarily on donations. Click here to donate: