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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Southern Hospitality Shelters Pets From Storm




NORTH CHARLESTON, South Carolina -- Murphy, a prosperous-looking female tabby, likes to be carried around the hockey rink. Sheba, a 16-month-old Rottweiler who won't go on the newspaper but isn't allowed outside for a walk in the hurricane, is panicking at center ice.


Sammy, a large dog of uncertain breed, is about to have puppies. About a dozen rabbits are being fed Purina Rabbit Chow at the far goal crease. Freya, a tiny Australian flying squirrel called a sugar glider, lives in a felt Crown Royal bag and signifies irritation by burbling like a baby getting ready to throw up.


In normal times, the North Charleston Coliseum is the home of the Eastern Hockey League South Carolina Stingrays and the occasional venue for rock concerts, rodeos and other happenings in South Carolina's low country.


But with Hurricane Floyd approaching, the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals got permission to convert the arena into the state's first hurricane animal shelter. Wednesday, with Floyd bearing down, there were nearly 500 animals in residence, each accompanied by at least one human.


South Carolinians are not blase about hurricanes. Mauled 10 years ago by Hurricane Hugo, massive numbers of people were not interested in riding out this one at home. And with the new animal shelter, they finally have a place to go stay with their special loved ones.


"Our house is a little bit off its foundation, so we wanted to evacuate,'' said Rachael O'Donnell, the owner of Murphy the cat. "But we didn't want to leave town because by the time we got back, everything would have been looted, like the last time. This was perfect.''


O'Donnell's previous cat was abandoned to its own devices during Hugo and "ended up pretty near terrified,'' she said. The number of pets lost, drowned or starved by Hugo was the main reason the SPCA decided to act this time.


"Hugo taught us a lot,'' said veterinarian Robert Carlson, the SPCA executive director. "If you can't get out, you need pet-friendly shelters.'' So Tuesday, the SPCA boxed up about 100 stray dogs of its own, filled a container with 450 kilograms of pet food, 5,000 newspapers and 225 kilograms of cat litter, and came over to the Coliseum, about seven miles off the waterfront and probably able to absorb the worst of the storm.


The ice was covered with fiberboard insulation, but still provided built-in airconditioning for the pets. Some visitors were cold, but others enjoyed it. Zeus, a young husky, lay luxuriantly on the insulation while getting petted by teenage owners Maggie and Sylvia Lewis.


But Cyndi Brown's hedgehogs were "a little cold,'' and perhaps not as well behaved as they might have been. Same for the sugar gliders, striped little marsupials that "roll on their backs, spread their legs and shriek'' whenever they're displeased. Freya gave a demonstration.


But the people had it worse. Owners could not sleep on the rink floor beside their pets. Instead, they had to bed down in the passageway surrounding the ice. Some people brought air mattresses or patio loungers. Others slept on folding chairs and a few sat in the grandstand.


"It's a nice, hard floor, but I'm all right,'' said garbage truck driver Frank Porco, who is minding Moe, his Irish wolfhound, so he can be near his wife, hospitalized in Charleston with pneumonia. "We might have tried to ride this one out at home if my wife weren't sick, but probably not. Hugo was bad, and this one here's nothing to play with.''