Ocean Reef Members form a truly caring community. Both inside and outside the gates, Members make a difference to so many organizations year upon year. When disaster strikes, as witnessed after Hurricane Irma, the generosity is magnified. And most recently, after Dorian destroyed parts of the Bahamas, Members and Reef organizations immediately took action.
One Member who felt an instant drive to help was Alex Woodsum. As a “rescue mom” herself, she knew the need would be great not just for the Bahamian residents, but for the animals that live on the island as well. The story began when Alex heard from a friend living in Abaco about a rescue shelter almost completely destroyed by the storm. The woman who ran the shelter was caring for close to 50 cats as best she could, but food, water and medicine was scarce.
Alex knew she wanted to help and she contacted ORCAT, which graciously agreed to take in five cats, as well as the Humane Society in Miami, which said they could take 10.
Alex found a pilot to fly her to Abaco to drop off supplies and retrieve 15 cats and three puppies. Once the goods on the plane were unloaded, they packed the crates of cats in as tightly as possible, but the puppies wouldn’t fit and had to be left behind. Alex immediately posted on Facebook about the situation and connected with a woman whose husband was in the Bahamas doing relief work. They coordinated to get those puppies as well as six more cats on his flight out the next day.
Not everything went as planned – the Humane Society told Alex she would arrive too late for them to receive the cats. Alex was fully prepared to keep the cats in her own garage overnight, but ORCAT saved the day by agreeing to take all 13 (Alex fostered two of the cats at her home).
“If it means we can get more cats safe and out of the Bahamas, we’ll keep them all,” responded ORCAT Director Susan Hershey adding, “Our founder Alan Litman would have been so happy… so happy that we have this facility and can care for one and all.”
Knowing the foreign cats would have to be kept in quarantine for about two weeks, the staff at ORCAT spent the next several hours preparing an isolated room and crates for the arrival of the Bahamian kitties.
As expected, the cats were not in great health when they arrived. The four kittens brought over had been found in water and their outlook was dire. They were so malnourished that, though they looked to only be a few weeks old, were three to four months old.
The ORCAT team spent the next few days nurturing the lucky 13 back to health and by Monday, all were in remarkably good condition. The kittens were even playing with each other and with their toys.
“When they arrived they were dehydrated, hadn’t eaten and were in shock,” said Susan. “It was a lot for them, but after a few days we started seeing personalities. Everybody loves their beds and I can see the happiness in their faces – they’re smiling. They were not smiling the first day.”
If you walk around the little quarantined room, you’ll see heads turning as you peek in and little paws reaching out for attention.. With plenty of food, water and plush beds, now they just want companionship.
As for the two cats Alex fostered, they were owned by a Bahamian man who had to leave his cats behind when he was medically evacuated to the US with stage four cancer. Now living in Arkansas for medical treatment, Alex provided two of his family members with Southwest flight vouchers to travel to Fort Lauderdale, stay at her home overnight, and fly back to Arkansas with the cats for a reunion that otherwise might never have happened.
ORCAT was integral in giving Alex the ability to rescue the animals and she is grateful to them. “ORCAT deserves all of the credit. They stayed quite late to set up and receive the cats, and they agreed on such short notice to take on all 13 when I originally only asked them to take five for one night.”
In response, Susan said you can’t just walk away, “The cats are your responsibility and what happened in the Bahamas is my nightmare. I certainly hope that if that ever happens to ORCAT, others would step in and help in the same way.”
Since their evacuation to Ocean Reef, the cats are out of quarantine, lively and loving. They are also very adoptable. As most of these cats came from a shelter, they are friendly and have received all their shots. “They’ve gone through a lot of stress, but they all have a story to tell now,” said Susan. Their whole world has changed.”
Alex said that many people have reached out to see how they can help the Bahamian cats and dogs, but the best thing to do is adopt some of the animals already sitting in shelters. Every time you adopt one, it makes more space for another.
If you’re interested in adopting one of the lucky 13, contact ORCAT at 305-367-4701.