The flooding arrived Monday morning at the back door of Clay County Animal Care and Control — and within 45 minutes, the entire shelter was knee-deep in water.

 

As Hurricane Irma moved across Northeast Florida, entire neighborhoods disappeared under the storm’s flood waters. Rain and wind poured onto already saturated land — and rivers and lakes and creeks overflowed, unable to contain the sheer amount of water.

It was all hands on deck, said Christina Sutherin, the Clay County facility’s director.

“It all happened so quickly,” she added. “I have the most amazing staff ever. They left their families. They left their homes, dropped everything to come out. All they cared about was making sure our animals were safe.”

Clay County Animal Care and Control staff got the kittens and the cats out, the dogs and the puppies.

Water in some areas reached chest-high, and dogs had to swim out from the back kennel. Two staff members even borrowed a kayak to save a lone, brown horse that was swimming down the street near Falcon Run.

All in all, they rescued all 101 animals on site and took them to the Clay County Fairgrounds. From there, rescue organizations took over. Jacksonville Humane Society stepped up. Pit Sisters offered help. Every passersby stopped to say: “I have a truck and some boots. What do you need?”


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Sutherin says she isn’t sure when the shelter will re-open, as the damage is still being assessed. The facility is not accepting owner surrenders at the moment, but they are still answering service calls. Clay County Animal Care and Control is still available if someone finds a stray or injured animal.

In Irma’s wake, Clay County isn’t the only shelter in the region uncertain about the future.

Safe Animal Shelter experienced heavy flooding, as well.

“Right now, we are just in shock,” said Sherry Mansfield, the shelter’s executive director. “We were lucky to be able to get everybody out.”

As the storm waters flooded the Middleburg shelter, staff rescued about 70 cats and kittens, and 35 dogs. All animals have now placed in foster homes.

However, Mansfield said she isn’t sure when the shelter will be able to re-open. Everything was ruined, and now sits waterlogged. Trees fell. The shelter’s refrigerators turned upside down. Two Dumpsters floated from their original location to another spot on the property. Water covered even the air conditioning units.

“We are probably going to have to start from scratch,” Mansfield said.

People from all over the country have already stepped up to help. Safe Animal Shelter has received promises of donations — both time and money. Volunteers offered to help clean the shelter, but Mansfield said she believes a cleaning service will be needed.

“It’s really bad inside,” she said. “When you start mixing cats and dogs and food and all kinds of things floating around in there, we just don’t want to take the chance.”

The organization says it has all the supplies it currently needs, but needs cash donations. In addition, Safe Animal Shelter plans to hold its largest fundraiser of the year on Sept. 23, and urges people to purchase tickets to support recovery efforts.

Both fundraiser tickets and donation options can be found on the shelter’s website.

Similar to Clay County Animal Care and Control, Safe Animal Shelter will be unable to take pets for the foreseeable future.

Jacksonville Humane Society, however, is currently open for business — but asks residents to be mindful of hurricane recovery.

The humane society is trying to accept animals from both local and state shelters in need of assistance. When Clay flooded, the local humane society evacuated about 60 dogs and cats to Duval County.

In preparation for Irma, Jacksonville Humane Society relocated all its animals to shelters in Virginia and Sarasota, Fla., before the storm hit Northeast Florida.

“If we’d had a shelter full of dogs and cats, we wouldn’t have been able to help,” said Denise Deisler, executive director of JHS.

Since the storm, Deisler says they’ve seen a lot of admissions — either people who found themselves no longer capable of caring for their pets or strays found in the community.

According to Deisler, Jacksonville Humane Society is the only Jacksonville shelter responding to the storm.

The humane society will open for adoptions Thursday — and people who want to help the shelter’s efforts should come adopt, Deisler said.