Thursday morning in Islamorada, someone saw an abandoned pug at a gas station and, not knowing what to do with it, took it to the Islamorada veterinary office of Dr. Robert Foley at the Upper Keys Veterinary Hospital.
The friendly pooch had no ID and was housed in a bus converted into an animal shelter that was parked in the parking lot at mile marker 87.8 oceanside. The bus was from the National Relief Network’s Disaster National Rescue Team, a volunteer organization based in Greenville, Mich.
Chief Executive Scott Harding drove it down with his son Gerritt and fellow volunteer Emily Oster, who served as kennel techs. They got here Sept. 15, days after Hurricane Irma crushed much of the Florida Keys. They came, Harding said, because they knew the Keys would need all kinds of help, including the animals. They provided some in terms of helping Foley handle the dozens of animals in his care.
Expected to head out of the Keys by the end of the week were the Hardings, Oster, 32 cats and one dog. But not the pug — by late morning Thursday, its owner showed up at Foley’s office and claimed it, office manager Carol Chandler said. The other animals are headed for no-kill shelters in Indianapolis and Chicago.
“They will find forever homes,” Scott Harding said.
While neighbors were helping neighbors with the beginning of recovery, there were those who were helping with some of the most vulnerable among us, our critters. Foley’s practice took in dozens of cats from a feral colony at the Theater of the Sea marine-mammal attraction.
“We have about 70 cats at the hospital,” Chandler said. “Most came in from Theater of the Sea. We’re trying to arrange transport, make sure they’re vaccinated” and have proper traveling papers.
“Dr. Foley stayed for the hurricane. One [animal] owner was in the hospital. We had a paralyzed cat here. So he stayed with the pets,” Chandler said. “Shortly after the storm, we turned our dog kennel into a cat kennel. We also had a chicken.”
“We have four vets,” Chandler said. “One just got back [Wednesday]. One of the staff members lost her housing but she is living in a temporary situation. Two staff members have lost vehicles.”
“I don’t know what we would have done without the volunteers,” she said. “They helped out tremendously. The first three days it was just Dr. Foley taking care of them. He was sleeping here on the floor.”
She said the animal hospital has “lots of dog food, cat food, cat litter to give out,” just stop by.
Down the Keys in Marathon, the staff at the Marathon Veterinary Hospital evacuated and no animals were boarded there. Dr. Doug Mader reopened the practice for regular hours on Sept. 15, down staff.
“Before the storm, we had 37 overall, seven doctors and the rest support,” he said. “I think I’m going to lose seven employees, all support staff, receptionist and nurses.”
Mader’s Lower Keys house was destroyed, as were three of four he owns in Marathon to house some of his staff.
“One will be rebuildable, the other four are totaled,” he said. “It was all flood. In those four houses, we were housing eight, two in each. One of the houses, the people aren’t coming back. My old hospital [about three miles up U.S. 1], we’re turning it into a dormitory; we can house up to eight there. There are showers, a kitchen. It’s big and strong and sturdy. It’s perfect for what they need.”
“We’re booked solid right now,” Mader said. “We have two doctors working all day long. Our biggest limiting factor is not our doctors but our technicians. They’re coming back in panic.”
In the Lower Keys, where Irma caused her most destruction, sits Dr. Rene Cruz’s Cruz Animal Hospital at mile marker 27 on Ramrod Key. Like at Mader’s practice, his clinic did not house animals through the storm.
“We were able to get them all out. We have a policy that if there is an animal in the hospital and the owner is out of town, they or an agent of theirs have to fill out a form for someone to pick up their animals,” he said. “There was only one boarding dog at the end that we had to call the agent.”
He said Thursday that aside from an adjoining apartment, “The hospital fared really well. The clinic would be functional but we can’t get the computers working. I was aiming to open Monday. Now I’m not sure. We had phones, now they’re out. Every computer, everything is beeping.”
Cruz said “we have supplies coming in. Everything needs to be replaced.” His full-time staff is seven to nine people. Thursday, there were “only two of us.”
But if an animal “needs prescription drugs, they can come in and get them. If they see us with lights on, stop in. We’re in here and we can give them what they need. There is also free food outside the door of the clinic, cat food and cat litter and dog food.”
Mader said since reopening in Marathon, he’s see everything “from dog fights to routine stuff, cancer. We have people coming in for routine stuff, a little bit of everything.”
“There are a lot of problems with pets cutting their feet. They run through puddles and cut their feet. Tetanus is also a big problem. It takes seven to 10 days to show up,” he said. Symptoms: “Their lips curl back, their ears go pointy, eyes pull back.”
Another issue for dogs: Diarrhea: “With all the mud and groundwater, the sewage, plus we don’t have freshwater. People aren’t boiling water and we’re seeing dogs with diarrhea.”
Larry Kahn: 305-440-3218