Hurricane Matthew rescue animals find homes after storm

Jacksonville (AFP) - Matthew and Margo Tobin took in a tiny dog named Star from an animal shelter when Hurricane Matthew was barreling down on northeastern Florida.

But this Sunday, when it was time to give her up, they found it hard to let her go.

"I'm not sure we are returning her... we'll see how the next few days go," said Matthew Tobin, petting the little mixed terrier.

On Wednesday, when Hurricane Matthew was approaching the coast, authorities ordered the evacuation of some million people, about half of them in the Jacksonville area.

Some crisis shelters accepted pets, as long as they were accompanied by their owners. But orphaned animals were not welcome.

The Jacksonville Humane Society (JHS), a pet rescue and adoption center, put out a call to the public asking for temporary shelter for about 200 dogs and cats.

People responded. Before Matthew arrived Friday, hugging the coast with Category 3 sustained winds near 120 miles (195 kilometers) per hour, all the animals were ensconced in temporary homes.

Braving winds and rain, people took time -- while also scrambling to find gasoline and food, water and other supplies ahead of the hurricane -- to pick up one or more animals at the center and provide it a home for a few days.

The storm was long-gone Sunday. The sky was blue and city workers cleaned up debris and fallen tree branches from the streets. Authorities were still working to restore power to about 1,000 customers.

And the sheltered animals' foster parents were supposed to be giving them back. But that was not so easy.

Nine-year-old Scarlett Banks sadly hugged six kittens on a sheet that was their home for three days, wanting to keep them.

"She won't let me," the little girl said, referring to her mother.

But other animals had better luck. A cat named Lark, missing one eye and blind in the other, is staying because his foster parents think it will be difficult to find him a forever home.

JHS workers were busy filling out paperwork for numerous unexpected adoptions.

Lindsay Layendecker, the center's manager, is not at all surprised that people put all their plans on hold to make time to help an abandoned animal.

"When we heard the hurricane was coming and we knew we absolutely had to get them out, we knew instantly we could rely on Jacksonville's community," she told AFP.

Layendecker said that some people came from the neighboring state of Georgia, driving more than an hour to temporarily adopt a pet.

The shelter was emptied of animals and some people who showed up had to be turned away with empty arms.

- 'A great experience' -

Layendecker was not surprised that some foster parents couldn't part with their new furry friends.

"They chose to adopt because they took them home and they saw how well it went for their families and it was a great experience," she said.

Hurricane Matthew clobbered the Atlantic coast of Florida late Friday and move northward as a weakened storm to the states of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, leaving a US death toll of at least 17.

The tropical storm, which became a hurricane on September 29, barreled through the Caribbean before lashing the United States.

It hit Colombia, Jamaica, Cuba, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where it wreaked the worst devastation and left hundreds dead, with the death toll officially at least 336 and expected to rise.