The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

November 13, 2012

Fate of pets adds to stress of storm survivors

— NEW YORK (AP) — Kate and Warren Sherwood had to think quickly about what to take when Superstorm Sandy's surge flooded their barrier island and caused five houses on their block to burn to the ground. Luckily for their two black cats, Schwartz and Scooter, their pets were a priority.

But the narrow escape wasn't the end of the road for the felines. Their owners took refuge at a hotel that didn't accept cats.

"We sneaked them in and put a 'do not disturb' sign on the door — pretending we're on our honeymoon," said Warren Sherwood, 56, a systems analyst. "But after three days, they got restless and starting meowing."

The couple ended up having to take them to a shelter set up in a gym near their hometown of Long Beach, N.Y.

Entwined with the human costs of the storm, which killed more than 100 people and caused billions of dollars in damage, is another significant toll — that of the cherished pets that died or were left behind as families fled for their lives, adding in many cases to feelings of displacement and trauma.

Some find it hard to understand why animals are a key concern in disasters engulfing human lives, but owners feel an attachment and responsibility to their pets, said Niki Dawson, director of disaster services for the Humane Society of the United States.

"There's such a strong bond between people and animals that people will put their lives at risk not to leave a pet behind," Dawson said. "So they stay, even when they're told to evacuate, and that puts first responders going back for them at risk."

Owners have recounted tales of a dog swimming through flooded streets and extra food left behind for a tarantula no one was willing to take in.

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