Hurricane Dorian: Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst


Another hurricane is forecast to hit the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic portions of the United States, and Best Friends Animal Society has been in preparation mode to gear up to help. We have worked over the years to grow our network of rescue groups and shelters in our push to end the killing of dogs and cats in shelters. This national team — now more than 2,700 members strong — has also been invaluable in our efforts to assist in times of emergency, such as natural disasters.

Preparing for Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian will likely affect many shelter pets and communities in the area. Best Friends’ emergency response team, led by me and Meghann Burke, emergency response technician, began monitoring the storm early on to track its path. It was important to follow the prediction models closely so we could determine the areas most likely to get the worst of the impact and we would know where to focus our support to partners in those areas.

Early on, we reached out to emergency management agencies and other partners at the national, state and local levels, to determine the type of support that would be needed to help the response efforts. Our regional programs teams began assessing the communities that would be at high risk so they could coordinate necessary transports to help get animals out of danger.

Our teams participate on daily coordination calls to provide the support necessary to get this all done, and the emergency response team sends out regular Dorian-related weather updates and leads daily coordination calls with an internal disaster management team comprising Best Friends staff from different departments. This constant communication by the emergency response team will continue throughout the duration of the storm and afterward.

Assessing the needs of our partners

In natural disasters, the emergency response team works closely with our regional programs teams to talk to our partners and find out what their needs are. In the case of Hurricane Dorian, this involves working with our Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regional team members, led by Makena Yarbrough, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regional director, as well as our Northeast regional team, to identify receiving partners for animals. One of the major ways we help our partners in the storm's path is to secure transport of existing shelter pets who are ready for adoption, freeing up space for incoming displaced dogs and cats who will need time to find their people after the storm.

Here are some examples of that strategy in action over the past couple of days:

  • By last Friday, Makena and her team were organizing transports, such as the one in Clay County, Florida, where the Southeast team coordinated a transport of 48 animals (18 dogs, 30 cats and kittens) to go to two receiving partners, Lynchburg Humane Society and Angels of Assisi, in Virginia.
  • From Suwannee County Animal Shelter in Florida, the team began coordinating transport to Bideawee and other receiving groups in New York, including the Best Friends Lifesaving Center, with the help of the Best Friends Northeast regional team and our national volunteer team.
  • The team partnered with Jacksonville Humane Society in Florida, preparing to clear their kennels to make room for newly displaced pets and getting 33 animals ready to go on the Virginia transport as well.

Communicating regarding the emergency plan

The Best Friends communications team took to our social media outlets on Friday, August 30, to begin not only communications regarding our activities and needs, but to spread the word about the needs of our partners and provide vital information to help families who are in the storm’s path to keep their pets safe and to be as prepared as possible.

By Saturday, the emergency response team was leaning on Best Friends staff organization-wide to start disseminating our communications out to the community, accessing technology support, and encouraging our donors and celebrity supporters to help plan and communicate the need nationwide.

Hurricanes are unpredictable, of course, and by Sunday, the focus began to shift north toward Georgia and the Carolinas. As a result, Makena and her team helped move 50 cats from Glynn County, Georgia, to Atlanta. They started moving shelter pets in Berkeley County, South Carolina, to the Lynchburg Humane Society hub for ultimate placement in Arlington, Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, and Delaware.

Makena and her team secured the Brandywine SPCA in Delaware to serve as a transport hub and 150 animals were transported on Tuesday from Jasper County, South Carolina, to Delaware. The Northeast regional team had already found placement for 100 animals with Northeast groups. Plus, the team is working on moving another 130 animals from the Outer Banks on the coast of North Carolina to the Brandywine SPCA hub.

Working together to save animals

We know that the only way we can end the killing of dogs and cats in our nation’s shelters is by working together. We follow that mantra in all the work that we do, especially when assisting with large-scale emergency response efforts. If your community has the ability to help take animals from a transport hub, please ask your local shelter or rescue group to do so. As Best Friends works to facilitate transports and gather supplies to further these efforts, please help us by donating, as we cannot do any of this without your support.

To keep abreast of our partners’ needs and our work to help animals during and after Hurricane Dorian, please visit our Facebook page. We thank the hundreds of groups, community members and animal lovers who are assisting animals and communities in the wake of the storm. We are hard at work and know that with all of us working together, we will use this disaster as yet another way to show the resolve and results that can happen when animal lovers work together. Together, we can Save Them All.

Sharon Hawa