April Casey tried to take a shortcut to somewhere else on Saturday when instead she arrived at a dead end – a flood that blocked her path on Will Baker Road, a little ways south of Kinston. She’d been on a mission to rescue cats for a friend who’d summoned her help.
Now, her path blocked, she walked out of her car and heard the cries of dogs from a nearby house. They were barking and whimpering, she said, making noise befitting of their situation – some trapped inside, others in a kennel outside, while the floodwaters rose around them.
“We could hear them,” said Casey, who lives in Seven Springs. “There was at least eight in the pen. And they were standing on the doghouse, but we couldn’t leave them, at all.”
And so with the help of her family, a jet ski and some jon boats on loan from others who joined the effort, Casey led an impromptu dog rescue in a region of the state that is now fearing historic flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. For about 90 minutes, people went to the flooded house and returned to safety with groups of dogs, many of whom were soaked and shaking.
Some were in small pens. Some ran loose. At least one small dog collapsed, trembling.
“It’s OK, buddy,” Casey said, reaching down to pet the dog, which looked like a small poodle. “Keep breathing.”
She directed someone to find a dry towel, and soon the dog was wrapped in it while rescuers continued to bring more and more dogs to the portion of the road that had yet to flood. There was concern here, though, that soon much of the area would be under water.
In Kinston and other parts east, like New Bern, both official emergency responders and loosely-organized bands of volunteers have worked to rescue people from floodwaters since the rivers began to rise as Florence slowly churned through the southeastern part of the state. Some of those rescues have been daring, with people seeking refuge in attics until help arrived.
The rescue here on Saturday at Will Baker Road was no less dramatic. It was representative of another part of a hurricane’s aftermath: the efforts to locate and save animals that, for whatever reason, have been left behind.
“I love dogs. I love animals, period,” Casey said. “… They can’t save themselves. There was some locked in the house, and the one that was hurt was locked up underneath the steps. Some of them were in kennels, some of them weren’t. There was just a lot of them back there.”
In all, Casey said she and her crew rescued 18 dogs. It was her understanding, she said, that several of the dog’s owners had chosen to leave them in a place where they thought they’d be safe. The house where the dogs were found was believed, until Saturday, to be on the high ground.
Hurricane Florence, though, has redefined what that term means. Of the 18 dogs that came out of the house, Casey said 10 were reunited with their owners. She planned to take others that were unclaimed to a local fire department.
“We have a female dog that was back there,” Casey said. “She had just had puppies, but the puppies didn’t make it. So the female is really depressed and sad, and she’s not herself. She’s all to pieces.”
Veronica Henderson was among those who’d been reunited with her dog. When he came off the boat, she picked him and cradled him in her arms. The dog’s name was Grandpaw, she said, with a befitting pun at the end of his name. He’s a shih tzu.
“My baby,” said Henderson, who lives in Kinston. “… I didn’t know if my dog was going to be under water, or what.”
Now she wondered no more. They’d been reunited.