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PHOTOS: As Florence Floodwaters Rose, Rescuers Helped Hundreds Of Animals In Danger

Photo caption: The ASPCA has a number of tips for how to keep pets safe during a storm. On t...

Photo by Carol Guzy for NPR

The ASPCA has a number of tips for how to keep pets safe during a storm. On the top of the list: Don't leave them behind.

When floodwaters from Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina's Lumberton area, some families were unable — or unwilling — to take their pets with them when they evacuated.

The flooding hit rapidly, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported, when temporary levees failed and sent water gushing into the surrounding area.

On a recent afternoon, photographer Carol Guzy set out with rescuers from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. They were searching for animals in trouble in the flooded area of Maxton, near Lumberton.

"It's a magnificent feeling to be able to be in a position to help a community recover," ASPCA rescuer Adam Leath told Guzy. Leath has become known among fellow rescuers as the "dog whisperer" because of his skill at comforting frightened canines.

It's not just dogs and cats that need help – in recent days, teams have rescued a number of different species, such as pigs, chickens, horses and even a peacock. According to the ASPCA, at least 550 animals have been assisted in the days after Hurricane Florence.

On this day, Leath and the other rescuers save several dogs in dangerous positions.

During one rescue, the organization was contacted by the neighbor of a dog owner who had evacuated.

"The dog was chained inside of a pen and the rising floodwater certainly made for a very hazardous environment for that dog," Leath said. He said the neighbor had cut the fence open and asked the rescuers to shelter the animal and search for the dog's owner.

Every animal they rescue, Leath said, is brought to a shelter. They also "place placards on each of the doors where we retrieve animals from, so that whomever might be returning has a great chance of being able to be reunited with their lost pets," he said.

In another rescue, Leath said they received a call from a resident who reported three dogs that were trying to stay dry on an evacuated neighbor's porch.

"It was the only dry place," he said. "They had numerous feet of water. ... As we were walking up, you could see just how frightened these dogs were."

Leath said that in some cases, pet owners who left animals behind will ask the rescuers to simply look in on the animals to ensure they are still safe.

"For me, this is what the work is all about — the ability to provide help to helpless victims in such a devastating situation, which also helps for the recovery for a community and the recovery for each individual family," he said.

Shelters across the area impacted by Florence are overwhelmed by animals. NPR's Brian Mann visited a shelter in Wilmington, N.C., housing more than 100 dogs and dozens of cats.

"We have a lot of animals here and we keep getting them," Nancy Ryan, who works at the shelter, told Mann. "People left them pre-storm when they were leaving town, and of course, they can't really get back to town to get them, so they're still here. And now we have some coming after, people that had abandoned their animals in flooded yards."

Other shelters were forced to evacuate all their animals, Elaine Smith of Cumberland County Animal Control told Mann.

"When you have 225 animals to evacuate, you cannot wait," she said. "We were very brisk about it, but it took us two hours to get all the animals loaded and out of the building."

It's worth noting that one person has found themselves in legal trouble after assisting animals belonging to storm evacuees. As USA Today reported, Wayne County resident Tammie Hedges was arrested after caring for 17 cats and 10 dogs. The newspaper states that she was working on converting a warehouse into a shelter, but "her facility was not legally registered as a shelter."

The ASPCA has a number of tips for how to keep pets safe during a storm.

Chief among them: Never leave pets behind. And in particular, never tie animals to poles or trees, because they would not be able to escape to higher ground if floodwaters rush in.

The organization also recommends that pets wear ID tags and have an implanted microchip.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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