by Lee Juslin
We all saw the horrifying pictures of pets being abandoned, some tied to trees or poles, while major hurricanes bore down on first Houston, then Florida, and finally on the American territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Irma, a category four hurricane, was so large that hardly a corner of Florida was spared. As people evacuated to get away from the storm, many left pets behind despite the fact that most areas have shelters that accept pets. Fortunately, many of these pets were saved by dedicated volunteers and shelter workers before the storm hit, but trying to get these animals to safety put a tremendous strain on shelters and rescue groups. The State of Florida is following up on pets carelessly and cruelly left behind in the wake of the storm, and when the owners are found, the state plans to prosecute.
Aggie of Sunshine State Westie Rescue (SSWR) said she was getting numerous calls about abandoned Westies. Like most rescues, SSWR is an all volunteer group, but most of the volunteers had evacuated or were dealing with desperate situations at their own homes. In two cases, Westie owners were rushed to hospitals leaving dogs alone in a home in the path of Irma.Belle and Bernie had lived with their owner from the age of eight weeks. They had a fenced in yard and a pet door to get out into their yard. They were very loved, but money was tight, so they didn’t always get the care that they needed. Still, at eight years old, they were healthy and happy.
When Irma hit, their home flooded and their owner, who was blind, handicapped, and suffering from cancer, was overwhelmed. When neighbors stepped in and called an ambulance, the owner was taken to the hospital and then to hospice where she died a couple of days later. Fortunately, though she died without a will, their owner had cared enough about Belle and Bernie to have set up a notarized directive for the dogs to go to SSWR. But, Aggie and her group were a bit overwhelmed themselves with the storm and its aftermath, so it took a couple of tense days to make arrangements to get the Westies out of the flooded home and safely into rescue.
No vet records could be found in the chaos of the flooded home. Aggie called vets in the area but could not get any information on the two Westies. So, since being up to date on vaccinations was crucial before the dogs could go to a foster, the rescue immediately took Belle and Bernie to their vet. They were given the necessary vaccinations plus a vaccine against Leptospirosis, which is a dangerous bacteria sometimes found in flood waters. Belle was also treated for a UTI and painful arthritis. Then, the two Westies were placed with an experienced foster mom.
Both Belle and Bernie are thriving. Belle, always the alpha and a bit crotchety, has softened her attitude since being treated for a UTI and given pain meds for her arthritis. Both are getting along well with the other dogs at the rescue home. Neither Westie has any significant health issues, and, at only eight years old, have a number of good years ahead of them. They will need to be adopted as a team but have a lot to offer a prospective forever home.Like Bernie and Belle, Scruffy was rescued from an abandoned home by Lee County Animal Services and then turned over to SSWR. His owner, too, had been rushed to the hospital but before Irma actually hit, leaving the blind Westie to endure the pounding and crashing of Irma’s winds and rain on his own. His owner, too, went into hospice.
Scruffy, at ten years old, is blind due to untreated dry eye, and one can only imagine the terror-filled night he spent alone in the home with the hurricane raging around him. Despite the difficult situation he was in, he shows no effects of being left behind in the raging storm. Aggie says he is a real love bug, not aggressive, and is enjoying the attention he is receiving at his foster home. His foster mom says he does the “army crawl” when he is feeling especially silly and which she also says is very funny to watch.
Scruffy will be available for a forever home soon. SSWR has brought him up to date on his vaccinations and had his nails, which were curling up from neglect, trimmed back. In addition to his blindness, he does have some skin issues, but he is super sweet, and not aggressive.
Scruffy walks well on a leash but is not completely house broken, so he will need a fenced in yard for frequent outings and an owner willing to spend time working with him. At ten years old and despite his health issues, which are minor in terms of cost, Scruffy still has a lot of love and companionship to give to the right person.Rescues like SSWR that are located where these strong storms hit, need support. This is the time for all of us to step up and lend a helping paw to volunteer rescue groups like SSWR that step in to save dogs in need, often in difficult conditions as was certainly the case with the hurricanes. Remember, unlike kill shelters, rescues are dedicated to finding forever homes for their dogs or, if that is not possible, maintaining a dog in foster care for the rest of its life and that can put a real financial strain on rescues. Why not plan a generous holiday donation to SSWR?
UPDATE: Bernie and Belle have been adopted by a wonderful, experienced Westie person with a fenced in yard and a little pond similar to the ponds these two had enjoyed at their previous owner’s home and at the foster home. Happy trails little Westies. I know your original mom and my best friend is watching over you.
If you can volunteer to foster, apply to adopt one of their dogs, or make a donation, visit SSWR at their website: Sunshine State Westie Rescue or visit them on Facebook – Sunshine State Westie Rescue.
Check out more animal rescue & therapy animal stories in our Pets section.