The majority of the 196 cats and kittens the Atlanta Humane Society rescued from a Foley, Alabama, shelter damaged by Hurricane Sally are ill, but all will be put up for adoption once they’re healthy, its leader said.

“Almost all of them had ringworm and upper respiratory infections and feline leukemia,” said Cal Morgan, the society’s president and CEO. “Unfortunately, we had to do two eye removals. Sadly, one of the kittens passed away from some neurological conditions. We have a great shelter medicine team here in Atlanta that’s working around the clock to do the surgeries we need. The good news is we’ve got a handful of these cats ready to go up for adoption this weekend.”

The society brought the animals back to its Alpharetta shelter from the Safe Harbor Animal Coalition Sept. 18, two days after Sally made landfall in nearby Gulf Shores, Alabama. The storm ruined the cat-only organization’s new spay and neuter clinic, including all of its new equipment.

“Once these felines are safe and settled with us, we will be working alongside other animal welfare organizations to coordinate the transport of these adoptable cats to other facilities while we care for those with the most critical medical issues so that they can also be available for adoption shortly,” society spokeswoman Christina Hill said. “If alternative care for all of the cats who will be available for adoption in the short-term cannot be found, we will also be caring for and placing these cats up for adoption.”

Since hurricane season started June 1, the society has rescued about 250 animals from other organizations impacted by hurricanes and tropical storms, Morgan said. In August it took in 20 dogs sent from the Humane Society of South Mississippi in Gulfport, Mississippi, to escape the path of Tropical Storm Marco.

While the 2020 hurricane season has been a record-breaking year with 23 named storms in the Atlantic Ocean through Sept. 21, according to weather.com, it likely won’t be a record year for the society in terms of the animals it’s rescued due to those storms.

In 2017 the organization sheltered about 700 animals due to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, a record. In the past two years it brought in 150 and 100 animals, respectively.

“(In 2017) we set up a temporary shelter here in Atlanta,” Morgan said. “Even that year we took a number of animals from Fulton County Animal Control because they were concerned with flooding.”

He added the society also works with other organizations to indirectly rescue up to 1,000 animals a year impacted by hurricanes and tropical storms by sending them to other shelters that can house them. It also rescues animals from other states impacted by tornadoes and other non-hurricane weather events.

“We get calls for a variety of reasons,” Morgan said. “Sometimes it will be a shelter that’s in the projected storm path and they said, ‘Can you take all the animals currently in our shelters, so when the storm hits, we can take in animals who are abandoned or stray?’ That happens frequently. We’ve already done that with some storms. With the last storm, we had already emptied out several shelters. We work with about a dozen in a year that are specific to those kinds of situations.”

He said the society works with 10 to 30 Southeastern organizations needing assistance each year due to weather-related issues. It also serves as a coordinating body with the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency on those plans.

The society’s shelters in Alpharetta and northwest Atlanta can hold up to 500 animals comfortably and add 25% more through the use of mobile kennels, Morgan said. Not including the nearly 200 cats and kittens rescued from Alabama, it has about 200 animals in its shelters and 200 more in foster homes, so there is capacity for at least 100 more.

That flexibility is a result of the success the society has had this year with its fostering program, Morgan said.

“We’re very fortunate,” he said. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people willing to be foster parents and let (animals) get better in a home situation has skyrocketed. (At its peak) we (had) 350 animals being cared for at home by foster families. That has helped keep our shelter more open and available.”

However, the society has struggled with fundraising at a time when no in-person benefits have been allowed due to the pandemic. The organization’s annual Bow Wow Brunch, which normally takes place in April, shifted to an online-only event Sept. 10 through 17 and brought in about half of its normal amount of donations, Morgan said.

“I think everybody’s in the same boat. All of the charities in the metro Atlanta area and across the country are struggling,” he said. “All and all, we’re down about 30% from what we planned to raise this current year.”

Morgan added some believe the society is funded by the federal or county government and doesn’t need donations, but it relies completely on contributions. The organization has pivoted in a few ways during the pandemic.

“We expected a significant increase in the surrenders coming to our shelters, and it really hasn’t happened,” he said of individuals giving up their animals because they no longer could afford to take care of them. “I would like to say when the pandemic came, we made a significant shift. We organized a big food distribution program, we opened our community health clinic to offer low- or no-cost care and we upped our pet owner help line and call center significantly.

“We’ve been able to help people manage their pets and keep them at home if they’re unemployed or undergoing other financial strain. That’s important to us because animals help with people dealing with stress. We continue to get a steady drip, drip, drip of surrenders, but we’re fortunate to keep most pets in their homes and are really proud of our effort on that part.”

The organization also offered individuals who got sick with COVID-19 a way to keep their pets sheltered at the society while they were hospitalized.

“The impact we’ve made on those families has been tremendous,” Morgan said. “I’ve gotten some wonderful letters from people that said they can’t put into words what it means to them. Once they came out of the hospital and were reunited with their pets, it was a really heartwarming story.”

The society also partnered with several organizations to help feed both pets and their owners. Due to the outbreak, it also has shifted its adoption to an online format, and pet adoptions are down about 50%.

“We normally adopt out 10,000 animals a year through our two campuses, and we hope to get 5,000 by the end of the year,” Morgan said.

Residents can help by making a donation or adopting a pet. Through Sept. 30, the society will match any donation (up to $250,000 total) through a matching gift fund Charles and Virginia Bagley created through the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.

For more information, visit www.atlantahumane.org.

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