As the path of Hurricane Ian’s destruction becomes more clear, videos are surfacing of pets and other animals who have been displaced and unable to fend for themselves.
Big Dog Ranch Rescue
Big Dog Ranch Rescue in Florida, the largest no-kill dog rescue in the United States, has begun mobilizing in an effort to help out shelters and animal rescues in the areas of Florida, like Lee and Collier counties, that were impacted by the storm.
“Right now, we’re loading our bus with crates for animals that may need evacuation from shelters over on the West Coast,” says Laurie Simmons, founder and president of the South Florida-based rescue. “We’ve also put out a plea for donations for pet supplies, dry and wet dog and cat food, and crates for people that need to relocate to shelters.”
Simmons says that the organization is filling a 45-foot long bus with supplies and the team hopes to be on their way to the west coast of Florida as early as tomorrow, provided safe driving conditions.
Big Dog Ranch is located in Palm Beach County, on the East Coast of Florida which was spared from the most severe impacts of the storm.
The loss of service and electricity has made getting in contact with shelters in need particularly difficult, Simmons says, but the organization has remained persistent.
“We are trying to get in communication with all of the West Coast shelters that have been impacted and find out what their needs are. We’ve already talked to two that need pet supplies to hand out to the public,” she explained. “We know that the two hardest hit shelters have no cell service and no power right now so we’re trying to get someone over there to find out how many animals need to be evacuated. We are just preparing our bus and our team and are ready to head out as soon as we have the information.”
Big Dog Ranch plans to move endangered dogs back to its grounds in Loxahatchee Groves while also handing out supplies to both shelters and families of pets in need.
The Ranch’s 33-acre campus (funded by private contributions and sponsors) is immaculate in its design — cage-free with large areas to run, a “Puppy Land” (a stress-free area for pregnant dogs to deliver their pups), multiple play areas, and even a dog pool.
Big Dog Ranch Rescue has previously conducted rescue missions saving pets displaced from Hurricane Ida, Dorian, and Maria.
Simmons says that her team has been prepping for the storm for the past week and clearing out areas at the ranch to bring back animals in need.
“We’re always ready to go for the animals because they end up being the ones that suffer most, because they can’t fend for themselves,” she says. “So we just want to be the support needed for the people and their animals that have been impacted by the storm. We’ve seen this devastation way too many times. And we’re just here to help.”
Unfortunately, pets are often left behind in big storms.
A 2021 study by the ASPCA showed that 83% of pet owners lived in an area that faces natural disasters and that of those owners, 47% who have had to evacuate leave left at least one pet behind.
Simmons noted that shelter space in the country is at an all-time low due to a multitude of factors, and it has even affected the ranch.
“We are extremely full here because due to inflation, owner surrenders are at an all-time high throughout the country. People are forced to give up their pets due to the high cost of housing, fuel, groceries, and veterinary care,” Simmons said. “What we’re seeing is that owner surrenders are up 50% and unfortunately, adoptions are down 40%. So the combination of the two means needlessly, millions of animals will be euthanized in overcrowded kill shelters that aren’t normally kill shelters, especially throughout the South.”
In an effort to combat the crisis, Big Dog Ranch Rescue will be opening a second location in Alabama (in a former, now-outlawed, Greyhound racing track) that will seek to serve and house animals from Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, and even Texas.
The facility currently has five buildings and a temporary veterinary clinic under remodel that the organization is hoping to open by end of October. Upon completion, the new Alabama shelter will have 16 buildings.
“We’re getting inundated with pleas from shelters that are just so overcrowded that they’re having to euthanize, [so] I can’t get it done quick enough,” Simmons said. “I’ll put it that way.”
Still, there is hope yet, thanks to donors and volunteers who have been willing to dedicate their time and money. It’s what keeps Simmons and Big Dog Ranch Rescue glued to the mission, despite the difficulty of the situations at hand.
“What I love the most about it is knowing these animals are going to end up in loving homes,” Simmons says. “To see these dogs come in injured or in total depression because they’ve lost their family and to see them get healed emotionally and physically with our phenomenal veterinary team and our great employees that love on them every day and watch them walk out the door in the arms of a loving family, and know that they got that chance at life to be loved? That’s why we keep going.”
Big Dog Ranch Rescue is accepting donations online (and on social media), or, if you’re in the Palm Beach County area, you can drop off supplies and donations to the ranch in person.