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Pets Huddle Cheek by Jowl at Florida Kennel

September 05, 2004|David Colker | Times Staff Writer

JENSEN BEACH, Fla. — Not hurricane winds nor rain on Saturday could keep Patricia Ries from walking her dogs. All 137 of them.

Ries is a veterinarian in this Central Florida shore town -- directly in the path of Hurricane Frances -- with an animal practice that can board as many as 37 animals. But area Red Cross shelters, where hundreds of evacuated residents were sitting out the storm, do not allow pets.

So Ries boarded as many as she could at her Savanna Animal Hospital. And not just dogs. There were cats, rabbits, birds, hamsters, guinea pigs and one pet rat.

The pets, kept in cages or carriers depending on their sizes, filled every inch of space: the waiting room, surgery, pre-op, pharmacy, office and exam rooms. Along with Ries, there were four staff members and a volunteer living at the hospital during the storm.

"We had a total of 250 animals checked in before the computers went down," said Ries, "and then we took in a bunch more after that. This isn't a kennel, anymore. It's a shelter."

The staff stayed busy moving from room to room, checking on the pets and administering medicines. They had to do it all by flashlight -- the power had gone out a day earlier and the windows were covered with plywood.

It at least kept them out of the storm. Except twice a day.

"Every morning and afternoon we have potty time," said Ries, rolling her eyes.

She and the staff took Happy, Max, Cheyenne, both Bubbas and the other dogs out for a short stroll Saturday afternoon, even though the winds had gotten so strong that across the road a tree had been uprooted and fallen on a car.

Kimmy, a 5-year-old toy Yorkie, was in the crowd. Her owners, Tony and Dee Celona, are among the 650 people who've taken emergency shelter at Jensen Beach Elementary School.

The couple's thoughts were not back at their storm-battered home on Hutchinson Island, but with Kimmy.

"Our three kids are grown," Tony Celona said. "That's our baby."

Ries's biggest concern for the animals is the lack of proper ventilation in the closed quarters. "If one comes down with a respiratory infection, it could spread so easily," she said.

As for leaving the animals because of the storm -- that wasn't on the table.

"This is a concrete building, the worst that could happen is the roof could fly off," said Ries. "And if it does, we'll just have to get wet for a couple of days."

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