Miami Animal Shelter Swells With Lost Pets In Wake Of Hurricane Irma

Sep 12, 2017
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Since Hurricane Irma passed, it is not only families and businesses that are recovering from the storm. Animals are, too. NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro, the host of Weekend Edition Sunday, is in Miami, and she's been investigating how they fared.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: At Jungle Island, an animal attraction in Miami, the storm toppled rare tropical trees and plants. It scattered leaves and branches on the walkways. But managing director Christopher Gould tells me as we walk into the park the animals are all fine.

CHRISTOPHER GOULD: We've got I know a collection of almost 300 parrots of different kinds, macaws and little parakeets and things like that. But we've also got mammals. So probably the biggest mammals we have include tigers, lions, orangutans.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Before we go in, they're all in their cages, right?


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Good news - none escaped during the storm. But sensitive animals like the orangutans, says head vet Jason Chatfield, had to have some special care, especially one of them. She's an older female named Connie who was in distress. Her handler sat next to her while she covered her head during the storm.

How do you - how do you comfort a stressed orangutan?

JASON CHATFIELD: As long as we can have someone out there kind of talking to her. And you can't hold her, but you can sit next to her and kind of chat with her and just, you know, hopefully she heard the voice and remained as calm as she possibly could.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Chatfield says animals recover from a scary experience the same way humans do, with routine and comfort food.

CHATFIELD: You know, everybody likes to eat when they're stressed, and hopefully they'll be OK.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Already back to their normal behavior are the gibbons. You can hear them in the background here. Their eerie cry is a good sign, says park manager Gould.

GOULD: When we hear that, then that means all is right in the gibbon world.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's going to take a month at least for the park to reopen. Gould says he's been in touch with the zoo in Miami and most of the other animal attractions around here, and he was told almost all of the animals are in good condition.

Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys, and it devastated them. But the Miami Herald's David Ovalle, who spent the storm in Key West, says the famous Ernest Hemingway six-toed cats at the Hemingway house are fine. As for the chickens that run around the island...

DAVID OVALLE: They're sort of iconic for this quirky little town. And after the storm, they were still out. And they seemed to be hanging out and finding little, you know, crevices and brush and stuff to kind of ride out the storm, soaked and drenched. Their feathers were just dripping with water.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The endangered Key deer also seem to have done OK, Ovalle says.

OVALLE: Nature has a way of knowing how to survive even the worst disasters.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Today at the main Miami-Dade animal shelter, a steady stream of people were dropping off dogs that may have been separated from their owners or were left behind. Alex Munoz is the director of Miami-Dade Animal Services. And he says storms like Irma swell the shelter population, and they need people to come and find their pets or adopt those abandoned.

ALEX MUNOZ: The big streets are open, so we're hoping for people to start showing up. And adopting animals and transporting animals is what we're working on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He confirmed some people did abandon their pets in advance of the storm. A few were left tied to trees and fences.

MUNOZ: That was the biggest call that we were getting pre-storm, of pets left behind. It was an uptick. It was obviously a lot more than normal.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As we were there, one woman came in holding a small white and brown terrier with big worried brown eyes. We were asked by the shelter authorities not to use names in order to protect the privacy of those bringing animals in.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It hurts me to turn him in not knowing what's going to happen to him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says she found the dog outside her condo on Friday before the storm.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He was all wet, dirty.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You think maybe the owner just let him go?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Probably. How many people left the house and left the dogs there? There's a lot of stories.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She has tears in her eyes when she says she can't keep the dog because of the rules of her building. But she loves dogs, she says, and she's bonded with this one. Still, she has to let it go.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: All right, buddy, let's see what we do with you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lulu Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Miami.