Fate of pets adds to stress of storm survivors

Associated Press Modified: November 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm •  Published: November 13, 2012
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New York City's human shelters are required to accept pets, and so are taxis and public transportation.

More than 200 dogs, cats and other pets from a devastated area of Long Island are being sheltered in the gymnasium of a community college, set up by the North Shore Animal League America, the nation's largest no-kill rescue and adoption organization. Many, like the Sherwoods' Schwartz and Scooter, belong to owners in nearby shelters and hotels.

"We're ridiculously stressed out; we're freaked out," Warren Sherwood said. "But I'd do anything in the world for these people who are keeping our cats alive."

Also among the pets in the gym is Emma, a Manchester terrier who swam to safety through flooded streets in Freeport on Long Island, while its owners carried their cats above the water, plus some clothes they grabbed at the last minute.

"We lost our house. It's submerged," said Mark Swing, who fled with his girlfriend as the tides rose. "All we got out was our four cats and the dog, except for a few changes of clothes."

The 8-year-old terrier was "a little tired, but fine," said Swing, 48, a contractor who was in a Red Cross shelter.

Cats and dogs weren't the only pets rescued from the storms.

"We're finding chinchillas, guinea pigs, rabbits, reptiles, birds," Dawson said.

There are stories of pets whose fates remain unknown, like gerbils and a tarantula left behind by a teenage boy whose Staten Island home has been deemed uninhabitable.

His aunt in Brooklyn agreed to take in the gerbils, but no one wanted the hairy tarantula. The teen left it behind with lots of food — in hopes the spider could be retrieved later.

Transport trailers distributed pet food and supplies like crates, leashes and litter from a warehouse in Queens set up days before Sandy descended, said the Humane Society's Schneider. Tons of food donated by manufacturers is being trucked in.

Celebrity chef Rachael Ray is donating $500,000 to the ASPCA to help pets and families struggling to rebound from Sandy. She said her pet food brand, Nutrish, is also shipping 4 tons of wet and dry dog food for Sandy animals, and her Yum-o organization is donating $100,000 to City Harvest and the Food Bank for New York City.

The ASPCA will use the money to lease a building to board Sandy animals until their owners can take care of them.

It will likely be months before any estimates are available as to how many pets might have died or were lost during New York's double storms. And like their owners, many animals that survived won't go home anytime soon.

Dawson said she has seen people stuck in shelters, wearing donated clothing, with no idea when they'll go home. But when they turn to their dog or cat, "their faces light up."

And that, she says, is why animals matter amid a human disaster.