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Friday, Oct 20, 2017
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Dog refugees from oil spill find new homes in Florida

The first batch of four-legged refugees, forced into homelessness by the Gulf oil spill, flew into Lakeland over the weekend, hopping out of a single-engine airplane and appearing eager to find new homes. By this morning, three had been adopted out, said Rachel Bulman, spokeswoman for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Lakeland. "They are doing well," she said this morning. Getting them homes is a priority, because another shipment of animals from southeastern Louisiana is expected this week. This batch is being driven - not flown - to Lakeland, she said. "Sometime before Wednesday," she said, "we are expecting another load."
Patt Glenn, operations director with the SPCA in Lakeland, welcomed the seven dogs on Friday as the pooches deplaned a Piper at the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport. Seven dogs that had made their homes in coastal Louisiana are now Florida residents. Their former owners were unable to take care of them and brought them into the St. Bernard's Parish shelter east of New Orleans, Glenn said. Their owners are either out of work because of the oil spill or working overtime in clean-up efforts and can't properly care for their pets, she said. Glenn said that thousands of pets are being turned over to shelters along the Gulf Coast after the Deepwater Horizon well ruptured in April and spilled millions of gallons of crude. The seven dogs that arrived Friday in Polk County represent the "first round of oil dogs from Louisiana," Glenn said. They flew from New Orleans to Marianna, west of Tallahassee, and from there to Lakeland. "I know we are not the only shelter in the United States able to bring in these pets," she said. "Houston has taken some. Maryland has taken some. And there are plans in the works through Pilots N Paws to have a mass evacuation in a few months." As many as 50 animals could find their way to the Lakeland shelter. Each pet will get a checkup, though many are in perfect health, have had their inoculations and have been spayed or neutered. Once they get their physicals, the animals will be placed on the list of adoption-ready pets, she said. "They are in good shape," Pilots N Paws pilot Devon Barger said. "They are in better shape than other dogs I've flown." Debi Boies, cofounder of Pilots N Paws, headquartered in South Carolina, said calls to fly shelter pets out of the Louisiana and Mississippi coastal region have been nonstop since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The non-profit Pilots N Paws is planning a mass transport of sheltered pets out of the region in September, an endeavor that may involve volunteer pilots using 10 airplanes to fly shelter pets out of New Orleans, she said. Pets that are brought by their owners into shelters along the northern Gulf Coast face euthanasia, she said, because shelters there are already at maximum capacity. For many, flights out are life-saving trips. "This has been ongoing since Katrina," Boies said. Now, she said, "People are losing their livelihoods. They can't feed their kids never mind their animals. They don't want to turn them out so they do the next best thing, bringing them into a shelter." The SPCA shelter in Lakeland takes in more than 8,000 animals a year, and the clinic has been expanded to a full-service medical center. Duaij Aloan, 20, of Lakeland adopted one of the Louisiana dogs, a German shepherd mix named Georgia, over the weekend. "We were really looking for a puppy," he said. Unaware of the imported dogs, he went to the SPCA shelter, where he used to volunteer and settled on Georgia, an 8-pound puppy that was recuperating from being sterilized over the weekend. "We're supposed to get it in an hour," he said early Monday afternoon. "We've been looking forward to it all day."

Reporter Keith Morelli can be reached at (813) 259-7760.

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