July 1, 2012

2011 flooding: Pets flood victims, as well

By JOE LoTEMPLIO, Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Dogs, cats, birds and even a ferret had to flee Lakeside Apartments when flooding shut the place down.

That was in spring 2011, when for the first time in Clinton County, victims of a natural disaster were able to be housed in the same shelter with their pets.

“Because of the number of people that had pets (at Lakeside), we knew we needed to try to find a way to put them together if we could,” said Kelly Donoghue, assistant director for Clinton County Emergency Preparedness.

“A lot of people just do not want to leave their pets in a situation like that.”

Most of the 70 or so animals that lived at the apartment complex at 460 Margaret St. needed rescuing along with their owners when water surrounded the place.

The initial shelter for the displaced tenants and their furry and feathery friends was at the Crete Memorial Civic Center just down the road from Lakeside. The people slept on cots in the main auditorium area of the Crete, while the pets were kept in the former locker rooms.

When the Crete had to be cleared out due to previous event commitments, the shelter was moved to the former Moose Lodge building on Route 9, just south of the City of Plattsburgh, a site owner Gary Titherington offered for the purpose.

In that building, the pets were put in a separate room in the back, while the people stayed in the front area.

“Just to have the pets in the same location meant a lot to those people because they could go and see them and check on them,” Donoghue said.

One woman actually had a comfort cat that her doctor had prescribed to keep her in good spirits.

“It meant a lot to her to have that animal there,” Donoghue said.

Establishing a pet shelter was not an easy task, but the county received help from many organizations.

The County Health Department, the State Animal Response Team, Elmore SPCA, the St. John Feral Cat Fund, veterinarian Dr. Erik Eaglefeather, the North Country SPCA in Westport and Pet Smart all chipped in to make the plan work.

“It really was a monumental job, but ultimately we had a lot of people work together to do something that had never been done in the county before,” Donoghue said.

If another disaster struck tomorrow, he said, the county would have a leg up on establishing another pet shelter if it needed to.

“We had to develop a lot of rules and guidelines for housing animals and people in the same place, and it was a great learning experience for us,” he said.

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