By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMAS Humane Society's General Manager Percy Grant hopes Bahamians will one day be allowed to take their pets with them to hurricane shelters.
As Hurricane Harvey headed toward Texas last month, images and stories emerged of people travelling to shelters with their pets in tow, refusing to leave their animals behind. Bahamians evacuating southern islands this month and New Providence residents staying at shelters couldn't do the same when Hurricane Irma hit.
"I'm looking forward to a time when people can take their animals with them to shelters designed to allow it," Mr Grant said. "During Hurricane Katrina, lots of people died because they didn't want to leave their pets. As people become more sensitive about animal rights, they are gravitating to the things that are loyal to them like their animals."
Despite a ways yet to go, Mr Grant described a country that is evolving in how it cares for animals faced with threatening storms.
"This time, what was unique is because of the attention paid to the Humane Society by the government for the first time, people responded well," he said. "We were fully involved. We were invited to emergency meetings at the prime minister's office and because of the awareness that was created we had to turn away so many people because we only could take in so many pets."
More than 100 animals, brought by their owners, stayed at the Humane Society during Hurricane Irma, including about six belonging to residents who evacuated the southern islands. This was on top of the organiasation's normal population.
"You could imagine how tight we were," Mr Grant said.
"I think Bahamians have now said, 'what are we going to do with our animals?' The sensitivity is different now. People are accepting, saying 'I love my dog, I love my cat and I don't want anything to happen to them.'"
Now, the Humane Society is working with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the Veterinarian Association to complete assessments of islands like Ragged Island and Acklins which were hardest hit by Irma. They have already got food supplies for animals to them.
In the case of Ragged Island, from which Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has urged residents to evacuate until it can be rebuilt, Mr Grant said the Humane Society is open to conducting a mass evacuation of animals that remain on the island.
"Is anyone going to be there to feed the animals?" he asked. "Food has already been deployed there. There are plans for the southern islands but I want the Vet Association to be involved to inoculate and give booster shots. If nobody will be there, then whatever is left we'll try to get them off the islands."