Animal rescue after Hurricane Charley hasn’t just been a matter of helping storm victims with their dogs and cats. Far from it.
Since teams of animal disaster specialists began arriving here Sunday, they’ve had their hands full with calls involving lions, goats, parrots and macaws, a days-old squirrel, baby raccoons, cows, horses, a ferret, llamas and cobras.
“A to Z,” said Laura Bevan, director of the Humane Society of the United States’ southeast regional office in Tallahassee. “If we haven’t seen it yet, we’ll probably see it before we leave.”
That’s on top of the dozens of dogs and cats that have been brought in for care or a temporary home. Hundreds have been sent to shelters in counties outside the disaster area and, if not reunited with their owners, will be put up for adoption.
Bevan is among about 100 people taking part in the animal emergency response, which includes local, state and federal help. People are driving through neighborhoods trying to find pet owners in need, delivering pet food, making rescue calls, providing emergency veterinary and kennel services and setting up three stations to take in and provide care for animals.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has even brought in 35 veterinarians from as far away as Ohio, Utah, Oklahoma and elsewhere to take treat to animals in the 25 counties declared federal disaster areas.
The death toll from the storm and its aftermath rose to 23 when a 37-year-old man died Wednesday in Orange County after falling from a tree he had been cutting.
A preliminary damage tally released Thursday by the American Red Cross found that Charley destroyed more than 10,000 homes and left 16,000 others uninhabitable without major repairs. The group said it had gone house to house in 75 percent of the disaster area.
More than 335,000 customers still had no power Thursday, state officials said, and here in Charlotte County, residents were not expected to have their electricity fully restored for another 10 days.
Wild animals, exotic birds rescued
At a compound set up next to a baseball field, Lloyd Brown held up one of two month-old raccoons rescued after Charley hit last Friday and fed it through a syringe. The tiny raccoon lapped at the milky liquid with its paws spread out and eyes like black BBs staring at Brown.
Brown put it in a crate with its sibling, then picked up a hairless animal with a tiny tail and bulging eyes, lids still shut tight. It was smaller than Brown’s pinky and not easily recognizable to a non-animal expert.
“You didn’t get enough, huh?” Brown said when the squirrel squirmed for more food. It was born right around the same time Charley struck.
Just after he finished feeding the wild animals, a group that also includes two small doves, Brown jumped in his truck to respond to a call seeking help for dozens of birds.
He arrived at the home of Rich Naegeli, who was the first zoo director at Busch Gardens in Tampa. He found 60 exotic birds, from parrots and macaws to a pair of rare Australian slender bill corellas — white with orange necks.
Naegeli, who has also run zoos in Saudi Arabia and Boston, also has four llamas, two horses, two dogs and a number of roosters and rabbits running around his expansive property on the far east edge of Charlotte County.
Naegeli and his wife, Dolly, didn’t want the animals removed from the property, but they needed help. Their electricity has been out for four days and they can’t pump water from their well for the animals — or for themselves and their daughter and grandson.
Brown tried and failed to hook the roaring generator up to the water pump as the parrots and macaws screeched loudly. He offered advice on finding an electrician, saying that would be the best solution.
“If you don’t get the pump working, let us know and we’ll get you water,” Brown said.
Along the road back to the rescue compound is a serpentarium, where researchers take the venom from about 400 poisonous snakes. It’s not the kind of place that you want to see severely damaged during a Category 4 hurricane.
“All of his snakes are accounted for. That’s one of the places we checked,” Brown said.
Among the other calls animal workers have received were reports of 15 goats wandering near U.S. 17. Two were caught. Officials also chased down two lions that were also roaming the same highway. And next to the animal compound, about 10 cows were penned into a youth baseball field that had building debris strewn along its fences, including one that insisted on hanging out in the dugout.
“They were wandering the streets, causing trouble,” Bevan said. “We had to have the fire department come over here and bring them water because they drank so much.”
Then, of course, there’s the cats, dogs and an occasional pet ferret that need help.
Kip Rhoten rode out Charley in his bathroom with his two dogs, Storm and Thunder. Storm howled as the winds whooshed outside and Thunder panted heavily. All survived in good shape, and Rhoten’s house made it through with only minor damage.
But the day after the storm, the dogs were in the backyard while Rhoten was away and someone came by and opened the gates. He was at the station seeking help finding them. A volunteer took down descriptions of the dogs and offered to help print and distribute fliers.
“I keep my fingers crossed,” Rhoten said, adding that he would have rather have had more of his home damaged than lose his dogs. He felt comforted that there were people ready to help him.
“This is great. Here you’ve got people who have been killed, people who have lost their homes, but I still have a place to come where people want to help. I like that.”