The yards were rebuilt with the help of Rescue Rebuild two months after the storm. CONTRIBUTED

By Tara Vickrey

It’s been a long and trying year since Hurricane Irma, as people affected across the Keys assessed the damage, made repairs, and – sometimes – made the tough decision to move away. At the Marathon campus of the Florida Keys SPCA, we made sure that ALL of the animals in our care at that time (8 dogs and 43 cats) were placed into temporary foster homes before the storm, and ensured that all staff had safely evacuated. We returned to find our shelter building and outside cat colony (our “Catio”) largely intact, but the outdoor dog yards completely destroyed by fallen trees, flooding and debris. 

While staff quickly worked to make the facility functional again, FKSPCA Executive Director Tammy Fox began contacting agencies on the mainland to ask for assistance. One of her phone calls was to a wonderful organization called Rescue Rebuild, part of the independent charitable organization, GreaterGood. Rescue Rebuild arrived in October with supplies, volunteers and $20,000 in donations, all to re-construct our outdoor dog yards. In just two weeks, we had six new yards equipped with coyote roll bars (for fence jumpers), shade sails and enrichment toys. Then the team set up individual holding kennels, built a permanent stray yard, created a new habitat for small animals, and installed shelving in our newly acquired shipping container for storage. Huge thanks to Rescue Rebuild — the Marathon shelter has never looked so good!

Those first three months after the storm were pretty hectic at the shelter, with the intake of an additional 70 dogs and 62 cats — the majority picked up as strays (74), surrendered by their owners for various reasons (32), or given free temporary shelter through our “faith hold” program for community members overwhelmed by major events in their lives (such as loss of housing, hospitalization, etc.). Fortunately, during that time we were able to return 37 dogs and 10 cats to their owners, and adopted out an additional 23 dogs and 35 cats — several to the very foster families who took care of them during the storm!

During the first few months of 2018, the Marathon shelter continued to respond to local pet issues and needs, taking in 81 dogs and 84 cats — 40 of which were surrendered in a single afternoon on February 27th. What became known as the “hoarding cat case” was the largest single intake ever experienced by the shelter; seven staff and four volunteers worked a total of fourteen hours to complete initial exams, medical treatment and much-needed grooming. Of 32 healthy cats, 24 cats had to be either spayed or neutered before being introduced into our cat colony. All told, nearly $6,000 was spent on medical care costs for all 40 cats. Fortunately, many of the hoarding case kitties responded quickly to our care and attention, and six of them were adopted before May. During that same time period (Jan-Apr), we also adopted out 19 other cats and 32 dogs, and reunited 2 cats and 40 dogs with their owners. 

The Marathon shelter settled down to a more normal pace of activity during the May through August time frame, with 62 dogs and 59 cats taken in, most being strays. We returned 38 dogs and seven cats to their owners, and were thrilled to adopt out 24 dogs and 40 cats — including nine from the hoarding case. By the end of August, the Marathon shelter was down to a manageable number of cats (35), and had adopted out every single available dog — achieving that rare measure of shelter success: forever homes for all! 

Although the post-Irma year was crazy in many respects, our accomplishments would not have been possible without the tremendous hard work of staff and volunteers, the generosity of our donors, and the overwhelming community support. For all of that and so much more, we are deeply grateful.

— Tara Vickrey is the executive director of the FKSPCA’s Marathon campus.   

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