PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. – Finding creative ways to meet the needs of evacuees after a hurricane takes teamwork.
At the American Red Cross shelter at Breakfast Point Academy in Panama City Beach, Fla., shelter staff have teamed up with shelter residents to provide comfort for both clients and their pets.
“We have a co-existing shelter here which allows clients to be with their pets,” said shelter manager Bob Devaney, who is disaster services officer for the Mississippi Region of the Red Cross when he’s not responding to the pressing needs of a disaster like Hurricane Michael.
Devaney enlisted Bay County authorities and school officials to make it possible to bring some two dozen animals in from the 90-degree Florida heat.
“The state donated crates for the pets and the Breakfast Point Academy staff opened another wing of their facility to allow a cool place for clients to visit their pets. Having the animals on site is very soothing to our clients. It’s been a pleasure to watch,” Devaney said.
Managing the animal shelter is an Army veteran and local Florida resident who owns two dogs himself and understands the importance of being with a pet in times of stress.
“When you shelter animals, a lot goes into it,” said Steve Lewis, an animal control officer with Bay County Animal Control. “It’s very emotional for everyone in the shelter. These aren’t just animals to us here, they’re part of our families.”
A resident of Panama City and a hurricane evacuee himself, Lewis arranges for clients to take care of their pets personally by walking and feeding them. “The clients have evacuated to the shelter and we’re doing our best to keep everybody together and as comfortable as they can be.”
Thirteen-year-old Samantha Green, a Panama City resident who evacuated before Hurricane Michael made landfall, has become the sparkplug of the animal shelter. When the Breakfast Point shelter opened Oct. 16, her family moved in and Greene volunteered to help care for the animals.
“I help out by walking and feeding the animals whose owners are asleep or can’t come over to the shelter,” Samantha said. “When we first got the kennels, they all needed cleaning, so we scrubbed them out and put cardboard under them so the dogs and cats could stay inside where it’s cool.”
Sometimes Samantha walks a dog; sometimes a dog walks Samantha. “Cujo is a boxer mix and he’s really strong. He can be really hard to hold on to,” she said. At the other end of the purple leash wrapped tightly around her hand is the medium sized brown and white Cujo, seemingly looking for someone to lick.
Samantha cleans crates and fills water and food bowls throughout the day. She’s at the shelter with her brother, aunt and uncle and two cousins. Her family stays in one of the school’s classrooms, in one of the mini “shelter pods” set up so families can be together.
“Samantha is a huge help here,” Lewis said. “She’s doing all this work out of a passion for animals. She doesn’t have a pet herself, but she’s a goodwill ambassador here and her smile and spirit are catching. It’s a bright spot here after the storm.”