A group of Pinellas County animal rescue organizations are working together to find homes for 14 dogs and cats rescued from the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm that devastated the commonwealth early last month.
Compassion Kind, a St. Petersburg organization dedicated to global relief work that helps both humans and animals, is spearheading the project.
“We act as an animal rescue, but also are a humanitarian effort,” said founder Aja-Nikiya Estro. “It’s relief for all kinds, any living creature that is disadvantaged, marginalized. Our projects help poverty-stricken countries and have both a human and animal component.”
Last month, Estro and a group of volunteers spent time in the Bahamas. They were ready to go as soon as they saw Hurricane Dorian’s path targeted the commonwealth.
“As soon as we saw the storm sitting on top of these islands in the Bahamas, I knew it was going to be devastation unlike anything we’ve seen before,” she said.
During the first “critical” weeks post-hurricane, their goal was simply to deliver much-needed supplies and finding survivors, both human and animal, she said.
Eventually, their focus shifted to helping animals displaced by the storm to either reunite with their families or to get them to the United States, where they could be cared for and adopted.
“Each week, probably three or four owners come forward to claim their animals. We’ve had some wonderful success stories,” Estro said.
Not all animals are so lucky, though, she added. In some cases, the families have surrendered their pets because they’re overwhelmed by the work ahead of them as they rebuild, while other pets have been unable to find their previous owners. Some of the animals they’ve rescued are strays.
Working with the Bahamas Alliance for Animal Rights and Kindness (BAARK) based in Nassau, Compassion Kind and the Fort Myers-based Humane Haven Animal Sanctuary brought a group of the most needy animals they’ve rescued to Florida during the first week of October.
Fourteen of these cats and dogs landed in Pinellas County. Compassion Kind has partnered with other local animal rescues, including Fluff Animal Rescue in Seminole, Rescue Pink in Palm Harbor and CJPaws in St. Petersburg to care for them.
This is the first time Fluff has partnered with Compassion Kind, said founder Kimmy Chandler. “But it has proven to be a life-saving relationship.”
Her organization has taken in 11 animals from the Bahamas, including a mother dog and seven puppies. This is a makeshift family, Estro said. When the mother was rescued, only one puppy remained from her litter. The other pups had been attacked, some of them eaten, she said. Her group later found six abandoned puppies under a house and brought them to the mother dog.
“She adopted them and has taken care of them,” Estro said. “It’s good for both of them. It’s good for the babies to have milk and someone to care for them. And it’s good for the mother, who was in a depressed state. It’s a win-win all around.”
Other rescues include a black puppy named Snout and a one-year-old shepherd mix being treated for a fractured hip and heartworm.
“He wouldn’t have made it on the streets on his own much longer,” Estro said.
She added, “Everybody is adjusting very well and you wouldn’t know what they’ve been through just a few days ago.”
Elizabeth Olson, founder of Rescue Pink, took in two kittens brought back from the Bahamas.
“If you saw some of the pictures of the ones that didn’t make it over there, it’s just heartbreaking,” she said. “You want to help as many animals as you can, and when it’s a disaster like this, it’s heartbreaking for everyone. The people there are trying to pick up their lives. When something is this large, you can’t have enough help for anyone, people and animals.”
All of these rescues are in need of foster homes, both for the animals brought over from the Bahamas and other rescues.
“Fostering. I swear that’s the one thing we all need,” Olson said. “Every single organization cannot have enough of this. Fosters are life-saving.”
For those unable to foster, Compassion Kind is still collecting donated pet supplies, from crates to food, for the Bahamas, Estro said. Financial donations that will be used for flights to the Bahamas are also appreciated, she added.
For more information, visit compassionkind.org.