PORT CHARLOTTE — The 10 cats and seven dogs that arrived at Animal Welfare League Monday afternoon all had a number.
The orange tag made it easy for shelter volunteers to determine which animals they would be bringing back to their shelter from the airport.
More than 130 animals were transported from the Bahamas Humane Society to National Jets, which is connected to Fort Lauderdale International Airport.
Staff from nine shelters across the state, including the AWL in Charlotte County, all members of the Florida Association of Animal Welfare Organizations, were waiting to get them off the planes.
Executive director Karen Slomba initially thought the shelter would receive 23 animals. However, due to the strict quarantine rules, the shelter only had enough space in the quarantine room for 17.
The flight from Nassau is a little over an hour, but as the group of cats adjusted to their new space, you would never guess they had a tough few weeks.
Vet technicians and volunteers moved animals from their crates to a cage, prepared with fresh litter, food and water.
The majority of the animals went for food or water, while others, content with being petted, explored their new surroundings.
Cat number 36 is named Simba. He is small orange cat, weighing only 2.5 lbs, but a big personality. Simba was exploring his cage, meowing at volunteers, and sticking his paw out of the cage to say hello.
He stuck his paw out, swatting at the latch of the cage. When he noticed the paper hanging on the cage that held his health information, he swatted that, too.
While other cats wanted to rest after their long trip, it was clear Simba wanted to play.
James Carrano has been a kennel technician with the Animal Welfare League for 11 years.
Today was his day off.
Instead, he woke up at 5:30 a.m., to get to the shelter by 7 a.m.
The transport van arrived in Fort Lauderdale at 11 a.m.
“We turned the AC all the way up on the way back, and they were sleeping like babies,” he said, as he unloaded the crates from the van.
Volunteers and vet technicians wore personal protective equipment, which included hazmat suits, rubber gloves, and covers for their shoes. This is required, because the animals need to be quarantined for two weeks. There are diseases on the island like distemper and Parvo, so any person handling those animals are required to wear protection in order to protect the rest of the shelter population.
“They definitely need a bath and some medical attention, but that’s something they’ll never have to worry about again,” Carrano said
Carrano said that the dogs were mild-tempered, and believes they will have no trouble getting adopted out after the two-week quarantine, because of their small size.
“They’re family dogs, they got caught up in a bad situation,” he said.
The cats, Carrano said, looked generally healthy, and he doesn’t believe any of them were feral. Many are still young, with the oldest appearing to be 2 years old.
Volunteer Gordon Smith said he’s been to the Bahamas in the past.
“I know what it was like a year ago. I can’t imagine what these animals went through, but they look good,” he said.
If you want to help the shelter care for these animals, Slomba said, you can contribute to the medical fund at awlshelter.org/. The shelter also runs out of canned food pretty frequently. For dogs, they ask for Pedigree, and for cats, Friskies.