After three major hurricanes of the summer- Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and now Hurricane Maria, devastated the U.S. and its surrounding islands, many people were left stranded without any hope of rescue, or at least no hope of rescue anytime soon.
Of course, humans weren’t the only ones left stranded. There were others who were similarly trapped. Individuals without voices to speak for themselves or even to call out for help. With no voices to speak for themselves or to call for help. It fell to animal rescues all across the country to help save them, but in hurricane conditions, that talk is not always easy…
Numerous rescuers stepped up to volunteer their time and resources to help the hundreds, if not thousands of displaced animals. One woman in particular, named Sali Gear, promised to plan the largest animal rescue mission she’s ever taken on.
Who Is Sali Gear?
Sali is a Virginia Beach resident who co-owns Island Dog Rescue, a local nonprofit that specializes in saving dogs from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Having grown up on the Virgin Islands, Sali knew the islands better than anyone. She was the perfect person to take on this intense rescue mission.
Before Hurricane Irma hit, Sali coordinated with pet shelters on the islands to transport animals to her Virginia farm. Sali successfully transferred some of the animals, but with Hurricane Irma growing in strength, she didn’t know how she would get the rest of them off the island safely.
As Hurricane Irma devastated St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix, Gear’s plan to fly about 20 animals to the continental U.S. every day over the course of one week became difficult. Now, yet another hurricane, Hurricane Maria, was threatening the Caribbean and Gear’s plans changed.
Airports Shut Down
Sali had to come up with a way to get 300 animals to her farm in Virginia beach, and fast! The problem was but she couldn’t fly them since all the airports had shut down. Sali had no idea what she was going to do. She couldn’t even charter a boat to get the animals off the island because the water was too rocky. She was beginning to run out of options… and time.
Charter A Plane?
That was until it dawned on Sali that she could charter a private plane to transport the animals. But, how would she afford it? With only two days before Hurricane Maria was expected to make landfall on the islands, she had to think of something fast. Sali decided to ask for help on social media in one last ditch attempt…
With a price tag of nearly $112,000 plus $5,000 for the cost of pet carriers, this rescue mission was pretty costly. But, thanks to good samaritans and dog lovers all over the U.S., Sali raised enough money to cover the price of the flight and carriers. Help was finally on the way…
Why Sali Did It
“We did it because there was nobody else to do it, and the government didn’t have a way to do it,” Sali said. Her crowdfunding effort began simply as two people having Island Dog Rescue on social media, which created a swell of support. Strangers were moving heaven and earth to make this animal rescue happen…
No Time For Sleep
It was safe to say this rescue was taxing on everyone involved. Sali said she didn’t sleep more than four hours a night for two weeks because all of her time was spent trying to get these helpless animals off the island. “This is a sprint, not a marathon…I’m exhausted emotionally, physically- but spiritually I’m not.”
All Hands On Deck
With the help of the donors, Sali was able to rescue 300 cats and dogs from shelters in the U.S. Virgin Islands via Amerijet cargo jet. Most importantly, she was able to do it just in time! When the animals landed safely in Virginia, each of them had an orange note taped to their kennels that brought tears to our eyes when we read it.
The note said: “I survived Hurricane Irma. I am still nervous. Please be cautious with me.” Just like humans have experienced trauma due to the hurricanes, animals have been in cages since the storm hit, and most of them had lost their family in the hurricane. Imagine how devastating this was for them…
Back At The Farm
The dogs and cats were confused, lost and just needed things to go back to normal. So, besides donors helping Sali with the cost of the plane, volunteers who heard about the campaign on social media showed up to Sali’s Virginia farm to help her reintegrate the animals after their departure from the islands.
Kindness Of Strangers
“I was about to start crying when I saw the amount of people, who, showed up to my farm out of the goodness of their hearts.” At Sali’s Virginia farm, the dogs were excited to socialize and wagged their tails and licked volunteers’ hands. Many of the dogs easily slept in their crates which filled up Sali’s entire barn and porch. But, they couldn’t stay there for long, because Sali couldn’t house animals on the farm.
Chris Sjolund, manager of the Virginia Beach-based animal rescue Hope for Life, took a handful of dogs from Sali, saying they were “highly adoptable” despite the trauma they’ve been though. “They all seem happy… Island dogs are like that.” Other rescue groups picked the animals up at the airport to transfer them, while some met at Gear’s farm. These sweet and loving animals were being placed in new homes all over the U.S. and Sali was ecstatic!
Other Volunteers Stepped Up
Besides rescue groups, local high schoolers organized to help Sali’s mission. Cape Henry Collegiate, Tinsley Sarrett posted a message on social media looking for students to take care of the animals once they arrived. In less than 24 hours, more than 250 people (most from Virginia Beach) volunteered to help walk dogs, some of which had been in crates since Hurricane Irma hit!
Pet Food Drive
In addition to finding volunteers, Tinsley helped organize a pet food drive at her school to raise money for the dogs. “I have such a big passion for dogs… I love them so much, and we as people have to help them.” Tinsley shares Sali’s love for animals, and Sali explained why her personal experiences on the islands made her specifically want to help pets there.
Sali’s Love For The Islands
Sali grew up in the U.S. Virgin Islands but lost everything when Hurricane Hugo hit the territory in 1989. Since then, she founded Island Dog Rescue, which as the name implies is focused on rescuing animals from the Virgin Islands. It’s in her blood to care for the animals on these islands and there was no one better to rescue them. But, besides Sali, another rescue helped save animals in the Caribbean after Hurricane Irma…
Other Pet Rescues
The Miami-based cruise line, Royal Caribbean International rerouted one of its ships to the U.S. Virgin Islands and the island of St. Martin to rescue hundreds of people left behind and 16 pets that belonged to them. Everyone was pitching in to help desperate animals who couldn’t help themselves…
The Animals Are Doing Well
According to Sali, the dogs and cats she helped rescue have been doing very well since they left the storm-battered islands. Sali has also been back to the Virgin Islands several times since Hurricane Irma hit. She explains the terrible conditions she saw…
Most vegetation has been wiped out and many of the buildings collapsed. Others animals left searched for food and this just broke her heart. Since the hurricanes, people from all of the U.S. have been coming together to help each other. In the wake of this terrible tragedy, strangers had been united and hope has been restored.