A year after Superstorm Sandy, numerous pets lost, abandoned remain unclaimed

Caitlin Stewart of Woodstown, N.J., reacts to finding her cat, Bird, in December of 2012 after having lost her during Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29, 2012. Hundreds of unclaimed or abandoned pets remain in the streets or in shelters a year after the Category 2 storm, volunteer pet rescue officials say.

Hundreds of pets lost or abandoned after Superstorm Sandy made landfall a year ago are living as strays or sitting in narrow kennels and cages at shelters across the country, waiting to be found or adopted, pet rescue volunteers say.

Some families whose homes were decimated by the hurricane had no other alternative than to surrender their dog or cat to a nearby animal shelter, said Trish Lane, who operates the Facebook page Hurricane Sandy Lost and Found Pets from her home New Hampshire. But in other cases, people just left their pets behind to fend for themselves, she added.

Jax, a Pit ull-Terrier, spent almost a year in the Brookhaven Animal Shelter in New York after his owners surrendered him. He was recently adopted by Tina Davis in Chicago.

One family on Long Island, New York, left their Pit bull-Terrier, Jax, at a shelter soon after the storm with the intent to reclaim him "once they got their lives together," Lane said. But that plan doesn't seem to have worked out. Until Sunday, when Jax was adopted by a woman in Chicago, he'd spent a year at Brookhaven Animal Shelter.

In the months following Sandy, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals assisted and provided supplies to more than 30,000 animals in New York and New Jersey, ASPCA spokeswoman Emily Schneider said. Hundreds of pets have been reunited with their owners.

Schneider says the ASPCA currently has one remaining pet from Superstorm Sandy in their care awaiting adoption.

Rescuing animals is mandatory under federal law, which requires local and state governments to include plans for pets in emergency procedures. New York City's human shelters are required to accept pets, and so are taxis and public transportation. FEMA also provides disaster relief money for pet care.

Terry Messer, executive program director for the California-based nonprofit Furever Animal Rescue, currently has three dogs in her care who survived Superstorm Sandy. She originally had six, but the others are currently in foster homes. 

Risa Weinstock, executive director of Animal Care and Control of New York City, said the difficulty of reuniting pets with owners in the wake of a disaster like Sandy underscores the need for pets to be easily identifiable. 

"The huge necessity is for a pet owner to have identification on their pet -- an ID, name, phone number, location," she said. Weinstock added that although microchips are great modern tools to help reunite a pet with its owner, they don't help as much as a simple tag in an emergency situation.

Caitlin Stewart, who lives in Woodstown, N.J., said Lane's pet rescue Facebook page was crucial to locating her black and white cat, who went missing days after the hurricane.

Stewart said Bird, her 7-year-old cat, prefers to spend time outside. But after the storm hit, Bird didn't return home, which prompted Stewart and her boyfriend to be concerned.

"Within three days we knew that she definitely got lost in the storm," she said. "We didn't get her back until a week before Christmas."

Stewart said she and her boyfriend had responded to at least half a dozen tips from people saying they saw a cat resembling the picture in the flyer posted on Facebook.

One person reported seeing a cat lying dead on the side of the road that matched Bird's description. When they took the dead cat home, Stewart realized the cat was not theirs. They buried the cat in the backyard and continued looking.

A month later, a family living just three miles from Stewart called and said they had their cat in a crate in the backyard.

It was Bird, though it took about three weeks for the cat to reacquaint herself with home.

"She had been living out of garbage cans," she said. "She'd been living outside -- no shelter." Stewart said she hadn't microchipped her cat prior to the storm, but recently had the procedure done.

She praised Lane's efforts with social media. 

"Honestly, as much bad as you see in the world, people not coming back for their pets, there’s a hundred times more good than there is bad," she said. "It’s a year later and (the Facebook page) hasn’t lost any of its steam."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.