Paws Up for Pets: Local shelters step up after Dorian displaces dogs, cats in Bahamas

Columnist Arden Moore is surrounded by Bahamian potcakes, mutts named for the leftover rice in the bottom of cooking pots that islanders occasional feed them. Early this year Moore visited a shelter in the Bahamas that Hurricane Dorian destroyed last month. Photo provided

By Arden Moore

I kicked off this year with a magical vacation to Grand Bahama island, less than an hour’s flight from Palm Beach International Airport. Although I was there to relax, I was also on a mission to tour — and do my radio show from — the Humane Society of Grand Bahama in Freeport, home of friendly dogs and cats affectionately nicknamed potcakes and potcats.

There, I met Tip Burrows, the can-do shelter director originally from Frostproof. She proudly gave me a tour of the facilities that have been weathering economic and Mother Nature storms for 51 years.

Cats and kittens purred and circled me in the new cattery, and happy dogs plopped into a row of “sits” in the open courtyard for me to dole out treats. I marveled at the new exam rooms with X-rays machines, anesthesia machines, updated computers and surgical area.

Then Hurricane Dorian hit on Sept. 1 — the strongest hurricane on record to strike the Bahamas, with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour. This Category 5 hurricane took the lives of people and pets and wiped away the airport in Freeport while pounding the islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco for more than 30 hours.

The once fully furnished shelter is now a battered shell of a building. Same goes for the Bahamas Humane Society in Abaco.

“We were not expecting a 25-foot storm surge to reach our shelter, which was not in an evacuation zone,” says Burrows. “Several days before the storm, I was contacted by and IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare), who often work together in these situations. But none of us really had any idea that the damage to our shelter would be so extensive and that we would need to evacuate all our surviving animals for health and safety reasons.”

Staff at two local shelters — Tri-County Animal Rescue, based in Boca Raton, and Big Dog Ranch Rescue, based in Loxahatchee — counted their blessings that Dorian just brushed the Eastern coastline. And then they got to work to help.

Suzi Goldsmith, co-founder and executive director of Tri-County, and Lauree Simmons, founder of Big Dog Ranch Rescue, coordinated efforts to arrange for planes and boats to bring about 40 displaced dogs from the affected Bahama islands to their centers.

“But for the grace of God, it could have been us hit by Dorian,” says Goldsmith. “These potcakes knew they had been rescued and their temperaments are marvelous. We lined them up and gave them baths, cleaned their ears, treated them for fleas and ticks and gave them food. Once we get the healthy green light from our veterinary staff, we will put them up for adoption. It was the right thing to do.”

Island dogs, it turns out, can have parasites different from those found in dogs in South Florida, so Goldsmith had to contact veterinarians in the Bahamas to get the right medications to treat Giardia, diarrhea and a parasitic infection known as coccidiosis.
“These potcakes are all doing great inside our isolation building,” says Goldsmith. “They all need to gain weight and are being fed three times a day. They are being spayed and neutered and updated on their vaccinations. And they are happy dogs.”

Goldsmith has endured far too many hurricanes, directly and indirectly. Two years ago, Hurricane Irma teamed up with a tornado to wallop Palm Beach County. The storm destroyed Tri-County’s 2,400-square-foot isolation building. Seven staffers stayed to protect the 200-plus shelter animals during the storm and all escaped without injury. The shelter was without power for a week.

Still, she knew that Houston from Hurricane Harvey and Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria fared worse than Palm Beach County that year. She quickly reached out to pilots of private planes to transport dogs from Puerto Rico to the Tri-County shelter and dispatched trucks loaded with pet food, medicine and bedding to Houston shelters.

This is why I respect and admire shelters for stepping up and helping other animal organizations harmed by hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters.

“We are here for the animals. Always have been and always will be,” says Goldsmith.

Arden Moore, founder of, is an animal behavior expert and host of the Oh Behave! show on Learn more at

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