There were two words Krissie Newman used again and again to describe the situation in the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said Friday while describing her work with IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) on Abaco Island in the Bahamas.
Krissie Newman gets a hug from one of the dogs she helped rescue during a mission to the Bahamas.
Newman, founder of the Rescue Ranch in Statesville, spent several days on Abaco, with a team of other animal welfare advocates, to help with the animals left without homes after Dorian ravaged the island Sept. 5.
“It was a very eye-opening experience,” Newman said.
Flying into Nassau, Newman said, there was little to prepare them for what was to come on Abaco. Nassau, she said, was relatively untouched by the hurricane. “People were on vacation,” she said.
She and eight others boarded a helicopter for the flight to Abaco. It was a short flight, but there was a world of difference. “A 30-minute plane ride away it was complete devastation,” she said.
Twisted metal, piles of wood that were once people’s homes and stripped trees were all that was left in the area where she and her fellow animal rescue team members would spend the next several days.
Krissie Newman carries a dog to safety during a rescue operation in the Bahamas.
“It was very surreal,” she said. “It was like a movie set.”
There was little time to process the damage left by Dorian, Newman said, as there were hundreds of animals — mainly dogs — needing help.
Newman said the goal was to feed animals in place and allow them to remain near their homes if possible. When that was not possible, such as if the animal was injured or the situation was too dangerous for them to remain, they were taken to a makeshift shelter on Abaco. The ultimate hope, she said, is to reunite them with their owners.
The more critical cases were flown to Nassau to be taken care of, and hopefully reunited with their owners, she said. Those not claimed by owners will be held for 30 days and then filtered out through rescue groups for adoption.
Newman said the teams found dogs on top of remnants of houses, underneath debris and, in one case, on what was left of a front porch. “He would not leave that porch,” she said “It was the only thing left standing.”
A dog gets a drink of water provided by animal rescue volunteers in the Bahamas.
She also talked to some of the Bahamians about their experiences during Hurricane Dorian. One man, she said, told her of riding out the storm with his wife and dog on the floorboard of his truck. “He knee-crawled to his truck and laid on the floorboard of his truck. It was the only thing left standing,” she said. “You put yourself in their shoes and ask, ‘Could I have done that?,’” she said.
Newman said a reminder of the strength of Hurricane Dorian was left in the office of a humane society worker. Inside that office, the power of the surge from Dorian lifted his desk, and it remains stuck in the ceiling.
Stories like those and the plight of the animals were heartbreaking, she said.
Newman said the heavy workload and short time frame made bonding with the animals difficult, but she did recall a couple of dogs that made an impression. One, she said, came into the makeshift shelter scared and skittish and with an injured leg. Newman said she sat by the dog’s crate, talking to her and reassuring her. After much encouragement, the dog was willing to go outside, but a passing truck startled her and she went back inside.
Another was a young pit-bull puppy with a severe worm and tick infestation. “Some of them will stay with me,” she said.
Newman said the experience in the Bahamas made her appreciative of the simpler things, such as when she finally got a chance to get a cup of coffee and take a hot shower. “I probably stood in there 30 to 45 minutes,” she said.
She also left the Bahamas with an appreciation for the people of Abaco. She said she witnessed neighbors and family members taking care of a dog until the owners could return.
Still, Newman said, the people of Abaco are facing a long rebuilding process, and the need for help doesn’t end with the passage of time.
She encouraged folks to donate supplies, pet food and money to help the people of Abaco on the long road to recovery.
Newman said she came home from the Bahamas exhausted and covered in bug bites, particularly on her face.
It is a small price to pay, she said, for helping the animals and, ultimately, the people of the Bahamas. And it’s a trip she will make again if needed.