As more than 1 million people evacuate parts of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia in preparation for Hurricane Florence, there's another group that needs evacuating, too: animals living in shelters.
Animal shelters up and down the southeast coast have been getting ready for Florence, which is a Category 4 storm as of Tuesday afternoon, since last week. But the shelters are stretching their resources to ensure that animals and pets can be moved safely out of harm's way.
"Our expenses for responding to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria were around $120,000 last year," Joe Elmore, CEO of the Charleston Animal Society tells Money. "Five years ago we didn’t even budget for disasters."
While many families are able to safely evacuate in time with their pets, animals that live in shelters or have been left behind by families are vulnerable to extreme weather incidents. The animals require every aspect of care: food, shelter, medical attention and transportation — and none of those fundamental needs comes cheap. It cost almost $60,000 to transport 265 animals for one evacuation out of Florida during Hurricane Irma in 2017, Elmore says. About $11,000 went to veterinary treatments for those animals alone. This year, the Charleston Animal Society is taking care of about 700 animals across the region so far.
Other costs you may not initially think of add up quickly, too. Elmore tells Money that during last year's devastating hurricanes his organization had to use a 12-year-old trailer to transport hundreds of animals on hours-long journeys to safety.
"This spring we invested in a new trailer that cost around $65,0000," he says. "They have to come equipped with generators to keep the animals cool so we can transport 80-100 animals at a time."
The Charleston Animal Society currently has staff deployed in areas like Myrtle Beach which are expected to be hit the hardest by Hurricane Florence. The organization has a staff of around 100 supplemented by some 700 volunteers, but staff members may also have to focus on evacuating their own families at some point, says Elmore.
How You Can Help
The best way to help animals during a disaster relief situation is a financial donation, Elmore tells Money.
"We don’t know where the most flooding will occur yet and we don't know what comes after Florence," Elmore explains to Money. "So we don’t know what we need yet. We got blindsided by Irma, then blindsided by Maria last year."
"We have to buy fuel for our vehicles and we have to buy medications and we have to buy them now," he says. "We have to have staff deployed with the animals, and veterinarians assessing them and issuing health certificates."
You can donate directly to the Charleston Animal Society by going to their website and clicking on the "Donate Today" button in the upper right hand corner. To find other reputable animal organizations to donate to you can use other websites that evaluate non-profits like GuideStar or Charity Navigator.
"If you think about $120,000 and the 750 animals we were able to save last year, that's just $160 per animal," Elmore says, a number that does not include many of the other animals they assisted during Hurricane Harvey. "For $160 you can save an animal's life."
Donations of dry food for dogs and cats, as well as wet food for cats always helps, too, he says.
And Elmore says, the shelter isn't forgetting its original mission.
"We’re staying open for adoption," Elmore tells Money. "We need you to please come in and adopt."