An animal shelter in the path of Hurricane Florence has warned it will euthanize animals if it can’t find people to adopt them before the storm hits.
Jewel Horton, manager of Pender County Animal Shelter in North Carolina, said on Wednesday that local government-run animal shelters were filling up fast and that those that hit capacity must “make space”.
This means putting down animals to reduce overcrowding.
“We are avoiding euthanasia at all costs,” Ms Horton said. “That's why we're begging for assistance.”
Organisations such as the Pender County Humane Society are helping to facilitate adoption and are working to clear space in the shelter without having to sacrifice any animals.
“For us, animals are more important than things,” said Julie Lamacchia, who is president of the Burgaw, North Carolina-based Humane Society.
“Things can be replaced - anything can be replaced - but you can never replace a life, whether it's a person or an animal.”
Killing animals is the last thing the shelter staff want to do, Ms Horton said.
Usually, when the shelter in the town of about 4,100 people nears capacity, she gets the word out and residents respond.
Even in the days before Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Ms Horton was able to find enough homes for the shelter's animals. But Matthew didn't hit North Carolina head on.
“People are fleeing this state like no tomorrow,” Ms Horton said. “There's just not people here to take these animals on.”
And as more residents leave under mandatory evacuation orders, the county shelter expects their cages to get more crowded.
Ms Horton said she's bound by law to accept every animal that comes through her doors.
It's important they clear out as many animals as possible now, before the storm hits, because once it does, Horton expects her shelter to get way more cramped.
“When we start hitting recovery mode, space is going to be an issue,” she said. “Getting people here to help us is going to be an issue.”
What to do with pets in a storm is a perennial question, challenging owners, activists and officials every hurricane season.
Last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, on Twitter, encouraged residents to consider their pets in their disaster preparations.
“Make a plan and practice it with them,” the agency encouraged.
Organisations such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society of the United States have become more aggressive about responding to disasters, especially after Hurricane Katrina.
One poll after the devastating 2006 storm found that 44 percent of people who chose not to evacuate did so because they didn't want to leave their pets behind. But still, plenty of animals were abandoned - more than 100,000, according to the Louisiana SPCA.
As many as 70,000 died throughout the Gulf Coast.
On Tuesday, the ASPCA issued a plea to pet owners, asking them to evacuate their animals, too, and gave them instructions for doing so.
“We can't stress enough how important it is to incorporate pets into evacuation plans to keep families together and pets safe,” Dick Green, head of the ASPCA's disaster response unit, said in the statement.
In a separate statement, Mr Green encouraged animal shelters to plan ahead, too.
“It's imperative that animal shelters take proactive, necessary measures, and collaborate with other agencies if necessary to keep the animals in their care safe during emergency situations,” he said.
The ASPCA and other groups are on the ground in the Carolinas, assisting with local animal relocation efforts.
In Pender County and other areas, animal lovers have used social media and word of mouth to try to pull off a large-scale pet rescue.
Samira Davis, a Wilmington resident, volunteered on Monday to help the Pender County Humane Society coordinate animal relocation. She said they've done a good job - for now.
“We've probably saved between 30 and 50 animals, but there are about to be so many more in need,” she said.
What's more, the local Humane Society is strapped for cash, and Ms Lamacchia worries that Hurricane Florence is going to further sap their resources.
“This storm is going to wipe us out,” she said. “If we don't get people to step up and foster and donate, it's really going to limit our efforts.”
The Washington Post