Dogs Displaced by Hurricane Maria Seeking New Homes in the City

Some were picked up roaming the streets. Others were handed over by family members no longer able to care for them. In all, eight puppies and two adult dogs found a temporary home Tuesday on Manhattan’s Upper East Side following a three-day journey from the hurricane-ravaged U.S. Virgin Islands.

ASPCA volunteers welcomed 10 rescues this week from hurricane-ravaged St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. (The Ink/Vildana Hajric)

The dogs arrived in individual crates, some shaky and wide-eyed, with their tails curled up or stuck between their legs. “It’s pretty expected that they’d be a little bit nervous before they get settled in,” said Alyssa Fleck, a communications manager at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The ASPCA and Cloud 9 Rescue Flights, a nonprofit focused on animal welfare, transported the dogs for placement at the ASPCA’s New York adoption center.

To help them acclimate, the dogs will be in quarantine for two weeks before going up for adoption, said Fleck. “All of the animals that come into our care, whether they were in a disaster situation or not, they’re behaviorally evaluated.”

The dogs were brought in from the ASPCA’s emergency shelter in St. Croix, an area hit hard by Hurricane Maria in September. The hurricane, a rare Category 5 storm, destroyed homes and businesses and left residents of St. Croix – the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands – without electricity or internet for weeks. Though the storm hit more than two months ago, many residents are still struggling to recover and rebuilding efforts remain vast.

“Our field investigation and response team received a request from FEMA to deploy to St. Croix,” said Fleck, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “That’s where the need was at the moment.”

Fleck said dozens of ASPCA responders have been distributing pet supplies throughout the islands and manning the emergency shelter on St Croix. The organization said that in the last three months, it has assisted more than 30,000 animals affected by disasters around the country, including California, where wildfires devastated numerous communities, and southern states like Texas and Florida, which were hard hit by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

Tuesday’s rescues were first flown to Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where they were picked up by ASPCA staff members for the three-day drive to New York. One of the rescues is a chow mix, some are Chihuahua mixes, and two white dogs are what St. Croix residents call “coconut retrievers,” according to the ASPCA. The convoy of pups made overnight stops in Jacksonville, Fla., and Washington D.C. on their way to the city.

Eight of the 10 ASPCA rescues from St. Croix are puppies. (The Ink/Vildana Hajric)

Carly O’Malley, an ASPCA social media manager who helped drive the dogs in a van from Ft. Lauderdale, said they created routines for them during the long trip. “We drove all day Monday but we stopped a lot to walk them, to feed them and to do some enrichment,” she said. That involved taking the older dogs on multiple walks while the puppies were let out of their kennels for playtime.

Potential owners should proceed with caution when adopting dogs with unknown histories, said Briana Balogh, a veterinary behavior consultant at Behavior Vets of NYC. “The majority of the pets will most likely have fear, anxiety, stress from the hurricane and all of the travels to the ASPCA.”

Balogh advised that owners should watch for negative behaviors, which should be addressed as soon as possible. “Many times, situations like this are so stressful for animals that they may not exhibit how they truly feel on the inside until they are comfortable in their surroundings,” she said.

Annie Grossman, co-founder and owner of School For The Dogs, a rewards-based animal training center in Manhattan, echoed that sentiment. Busy streets in cities like New York can be terrifying for animals that aren’t used to bustling environments, she said. “Once they’re past the puppy-socialization period, it can be hard for them to synthesize all the new stimuli – the sounds, the sights, the bikes, the sirens,” said Grossman, who has worked with island rescues before.

The long-distance travel can be traumatizing for a dog, Grossman added. “If you’re working with a reputable shelter, you hope that they’ve taken every caution they can to make sure the trip is as stress-free as possible for the dogs.”

Shelby Semel, a New York-based dog trainer, offered advice for people looking to adopt dogs coming out of traumatic situations. “Pet adopters should be prepared to be patient, be willing to seek a trainer or veterinary behaviorist help if necessary, and committed to helping the dog adjust in their new home,” she said.