Safe harbor for pets in the path of Hurricane Ian

Smiling person wearing Best Friends branded clothes next to a dog in a crate in a transport van
By Julie Castle

Part of our work in saving the lives of dogs and cats in shelters hinges on our response to the unknown and (relatively) unexpected, like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Harvey in 2017. And now, our response to Hurricane Ian.

When we were first alerted to Hurricane Ian’s threat to the Southeast, our emergency response, regional and network partner teams began contacting shelters in the area — both in and out of the storm’s projected path. Our plan was twofold: 1) transport animals out of larger shelters that were nearby but outside of the path of the storm, and 2) move animals from shelters in the storm’s path to the large shelters from step one.

With that plan, we are maximizing the capacities of shelters that were largely unaffected by the storm, and we can help not just the pets already in impacted shelters, but other pets who were also impacted and need a safe place to stay.

I’m incredibly proud of the efforts we made mobilizing on the ground in response to Katrina and Harvey, and I’m thankful for our staff and emergency response volunteers who have been on the ground throughout Hurricane Ian. Still, our emergency service work has evolved over the years. We’ve found that the most effective way for us to respond is to use the national network of shelter partners and resources that we’ve built to facilitate transports and connect shelters in need with those able to help.

This last week, and in Florida especially, we knew that there would be two waves of transport needs, with the second coming in the aftermath of the storm. It’s in this that Best Friends has been best equipped to take the helm. History has taught us that many, many displaced pets will be found in the coming days and weeks, desperately needing a safe place to stay. If the shelters closest to them are at capacity and/or inundated already, it’s incredibly difficult to find safe placement. That’s why clearing the mildly affected shelters is so essential. It allows for more in-state movement of pets where it’s most needed, giving safe harbor to pets caught in the storm.

Coordinating this kind of effort is no simple task. There are so many staff, volunteers, and organizations working together and collaborating, both on the ground and remotely, to get pets to safety. For example, one of our incredible Best Friends emergency response volunteers, Chuck Quon, drove a van from Los Angeles to Florida (a 32-hour trek one way!) to join a caravan that transported over 100 pets out of Florida.

Two others, Cindy and Joel Tracy, deployed from Massachusetts to Florida to help move pets out of shelters in the Florida panhandle in anticipation of the second wave of transport needs. While deployed, they’ve appreciated the extraordinary bonds created among our shelter partners, Best Friends staff and volunteers, and even the folks along the way who wanted to donate or provide resources after just seeing this work.

Cindy and Joel aren’t alone in that sentiment. Christine Bishofberger, a Best Friends emergency response volunteer from South Carolina, said: “I don’t know of another purpose but the unending love of animals that can bring complete strangers from across the country to form an incredible team.” I could not have said it better myself. This work is challenging, yes, but it’s inspiring, significant, and necessary.

These are just a few stories from dozens of transports that Best Friends is working on. Read more of those stories here.

Our team continues to coordinate these efforts based on the anticipated long-term needs, while still assessing the latest needs in areas impacted by Hurricane Ian. I’m expecting that soon, our programs teams, who have been working hard throughout this effort, will lay out a long-term strategy to continue caring for these displaced pets long after the storm passed.

These kinds of efforts — in which hundreds, if not thousands, of animal lovers work together to save the most lives — bring us further down the road to achieving no-kill nationwide by 2025. Together, we will Save Them All.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society