PENSACOLA, Fla. — With traffic factored in, Michelle McShane and her mother spent 24 hours bouncing around from their home in West Palm Beach to Tallahassee to Pensacola as they ducked and dodged Hurricane Irma’s projected path.
Occupying the back of McShane’s travel camper from start to finish were her 11 pet dogs, which range in size from an 11-pound Chihuahua to a 90-pound black Lab mix.
“I bought the biggest crates I possibly could,” McShane said of her pre-trip preparations. “And I bought a lot of 42-inch crates because I have a lot of larger animals. But they didn’t all fit, so I actually had to go to several PetSmarts and find 36-inch crates. So some of the dogs were in smaller crates than I wanted them to be in, but I had to get them to fit.”
Reports surface every hurricane season of pet owners who leave their animals behind when evacuating a storm. Just before Irma made landfall in southern Florida, roughly 40 dogs were reportedly tied up or left in pens and yards, abandoned and unable to escape. Area shelters said another 40 dogs and cats were relinquished to them.
Neither of these were options for McShane.
“There’s no excuse. You just find a way,” McShane said. “When you have pets, you gotta take care of them, ’cause you’re all they have.”
In addition to the crating headaches, McShane said her biggest challenge was making sure her pets, which are all rescues, avoided exhaustion.
“I thought it would only take me 10-12 hours with traffic in the cool of the night,” McShane said. “When it ended up I had to travel during the day I was concerned about heat stroke being in the camper, because the (air conditioner) only runs when you’re plugged in.”
But the same will that led McShane to play Tetris with the dog crates also guided her to find a way to keep her dogs hydrated and happy during the trip.
“I got bags and bags of ice and ice water and I put ice around them and put ice on them,” she said. “I put ice on top of their crates so it would drop on them. I did everything I could to keep them cool.”
When she evacuated on Sept. 7, McShane’s plan was to stay at a friend’s brother’s mobile home in Tallahassee, where there was a big, fenced-in yard for the dogs.
But when affected areas in the hurricane’s path shifted toward the central and western portions of the state, McShane and her mother, Carolyn, packed up the camper and just drove west.
They stayed at a rest stop for one night before making their way to the Pensacola Bay Center over the weekend.
When they arrived, McShane said she wasn’t sure if the designated shelter could even accommodate her entire fur family. But Escambia County Animal Services volunteer Bobbie Chasarik set the dogs up with their own little hallway.
“She went back there and she lined the whole hallway with plastic and got the whole thing ready, and one by one started bringing them in and it just worked out fantastic,” McShane said.
Chasarik said she was taken aback by how many dogs Michelle brought into the shelter, but said she knew she had to make it work.
“Just prior to Michelle coming in we had been given a second hallway to use, but with Michelle’s 11 dogs we knew we needed more,” Chasarik said. “The Bay Center staff quickly came down to allocate another hallway for us, which is where I chose to set up Michelle’s pack.”
McShane spent much of her four-day stay walking the dogs up and down the curving roads behind the Bay Center. She planned to pack her crew up and head back home around 8 p.m. Wednesday.
McShane said the experience couldn’t have gone much smoother considering the situation.
“Everyone at the shelter went above and beyond,” she said. “Everyone here did. To make room for all my babies.”
As of 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, there were four people still sheltered inside the Bay Center, which housed nearly 275 people at the peak of the evacuation on Monday.
Information from: Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, http://www.pensacolanewsjournal.com