Perry agricenter gives free shelter to horses - and owners - fleeing Hurricane Irma

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Perry agricenter gives free shelter to horses - and owners - fleeing Hurricane Irma

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ANDREW BURTON/NYT
A man leads two horses through a neighborhood after the area became flooded in Houston, Aug. 29, 2017. As one of the most destructive storms in the nation’s history pummeled southeast Texas for a fourth day, forecasts on Tuesday called for still more rain, making clear that catastrophic flooding that had turned neighborhoods into lakes was just the start of a disaster that would take years to overcome. (Andrew Burton/The New York Times)

It’s one thing to find a temporary home for a 20-pound beagle.

It’s quite another to find shelter for a 1,100-pound thoroughbred.

The Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter  in Perry is offering a safe haven for people and their horses fleeing Hurricane Irma, which is projected to slam into Florida this weekend and travel up the coast of Georgia.

“We’re getting calls constantly,” said Stephen Shimp, executive director of the fairgrounds, which is about 106 miles from Atlanta. “Our phones are lighting up.”

Currently about 45 of the available 350 stalls are occupied. 

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“We’re expecting a lot more to be headed this way.”

So far, most of the equines are from coastal Georgia, although some are coming from Florida. Most are privately owned from family farms and ranches.

Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency to 30 southeast Georgia counties. A mandatory evacuation order includes Chatham County and some areas west of I-95 that also could be affected by what is expected to be a huge storm surge.

Scenes from around Palm Beach County, Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 6 and 7, as residents prepare for Hurricane Irma.

“They’ve got to be evacuated and need a place to go,” Shimp said. “These horses are pretty much a part of their family. It’s pretty much like having a dog.”

A big one.

Several metro Atlanta rescue groups and the Atlanta Humane Society have already made room for Harvey evacuees. Why not open the state’s doors to horses?

It’s not just the four-legged creatures that are welcome in Perry. Owners can also stay there for shelter and to take care of their animals and RVs are welcome.

Most of the trailers also contain living quarters. “As long as the horse is here, we have plenty of room - about 12,000 acres.”

At this point, fairgrounds officials are not looking for volunteers. Owners are responsible for their horses’ feed and hay.

There’s plenty of water on site.

"This thing is going to go up Florida like a bowling ball,” he said. “Nobody is going to be safe.”

The site will be open on a first-come, first-serve basis. There is no cost to bring your horse or to stay there.

Shimp said the property is open to people who don’t own a horse but still need a safe place to stay. It’s also open to other kinds of livestock.

Several website sites,  including Humane Society of the United States, offer tips for owners to protect their horses in an emergency.

They include :

  • Contact your local animal care and control agency, agricultural extension agent or local memergency management authorities for information about shelters in your area.
  • Post detailed instructions in several places—including the barn office or tack room, the horse trailer, and barn entrances— to ensure they areaccessible to emergency workers in case you are not able to evacuate your horses yourself. 
  • Place your horses’ Coggins tests, veterinary papers,  indentification photos and vital information - such as allergies and medical history - in a water-tight envelope. 
  •   Keep halters ready for your horses. Each halter should include the following information: the horse’s name, your name and your telephone number 
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