SARASOTA, FL – A small staff at an animal shelter in Sarasota, Florida managed to care for more than 100 cats and a four-day-old kitten, even amid the wrath of Hurricane Ian.
At Cat Depot in Sarasota, staff members hunkered down inside the shelter overnight as the wind pounded on their windows amid the hurricane.
A little water seeped inside the building.
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“[It was] dripping…then scooping it out of the litter box at the bottom,” said Ryan Simonson, care and facilities manager at the shelter.
“It was all just, ‘Collect then mop, scoop and mop’ – just standing here and passing about every 10 minutes,” he added.
Forecasters originally predicted that Hurricane Ian would hit a bit farther north than it did, along the Gulf Coast.
Instead, it hit cities like Naples and Fort Myers the hardest, destroying homes and cars.
The cities of Sarasota and, even further north of that, Tampa were just shy of the direct path, but even those cities suffered damage.
Shelters like Cat Depot are vulnerable when it comes to the ability to quickly evacuate many animals.
“We have a steel roof, which is great for survivability, but not for acoustics, so the cats heard a lot of loud noises,” Simonson said.
“We have provided them with hiding places and put in place sound-absorbing materials to help them in the spaces in which they live.”
Roof insulation partially came loose, some materials inside such as dishes and laundry were lost, and the building’s hot water and electricity were cut off.
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Staff got little to no sleep the night Ian hit.
“It’s been tough. It’s a lot of long hours,” Simonson said. “It’s been a lot of cat anxiety management.”
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The shelter has a mobile trailer that can accommodate about 120 cats. They prepared that and many carriers in case they had to evacuate.
Cat Depot also opened its building to the public if anyone wanted to drop off their animals as they prepared for the storm.
The shelter also has a retail side, with necessary supplies such as cat food.
The operation hopes to reopen to the public on Saturday as other stores that sell these products may remain closed or run out of product.
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“I’m from Florida originally. I’ve been through a lot of big storms,” Simonson said.
“It’s the first one that I think I was really nervous about,” he continued.
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The nonprofit organization relies on donations and volunteers from the community, and the cleanup process takes everyone on board.
But staff say they are grateful to have missed Ian’s worst – and all the animals are safe.