The fabulous Florida Keys took quite a beating in the Category 4 storm, and the animals need your help!
Florida is home to unique wildlife and exotic pets that add to the Sunshine State's character. You can help the animals get back on their feet (or flippers!) by donating to any of these organizations.
Many of these animal groups are also tourist destinations open to the public. As a major vacation destination in the U.S., tourism drives Florida's economy. You can also help the animals and the locals by booking a vacation and visiting these spots in person!
1. Turtle Hospital - Marathon, FL Keys
I spent a year working with sea turtles at this globally known rescue facility. All of the turtles and staff fared well in the storm, but the old motel-turned-sea-turtle hangout took a hit.
2. Aquarium Encounters - Marathon, FL Keys
A newer addition to the Keys, this tourist spot has touch tanks and SNUBA options for its guests.
3. Dolphin Research Center - Grassy Key, FL Keys
I volunteered here and met a large group of people who care for these dolphins like family. The hurricane crew, dolphins, and sea lions made it through the storm, but the largely open-air facility will need some construction.
4. Marathon Veterinary Hospital - Marathon, FL Keys
I worked with all sorts of pets and wildlife at this state-of-the-art vet hospital, run by internationally renowned herpetologist Dr. Doug Mader. The team helped battle the screwworm outbreak affecting pets and endangered Key deer.
5. Monroe County Sheriff's Animal Farm - Stock Island/Key West, FL Keys
If you've never had the pleasure of meeting Mo the Sloth or Kramer the Emu, be sure to book a trip to meet Farmer Jeanne and the rescued animals that live below the Monroe County Jail as part of an inmate community service program.
Farmer Jeanne and the animals rode out the storm inside windowless jail cells. All are well, but some of the pens need rebuilding.
6. Marathon Wild Bird Center - Marathon, FL Keys
The veterinary clinic I worked at also cared for birds rescued by the small center located in the tropical forest of historic Crane Hammock park. I restrained a Great Horned Owl found injured on the side of U.S. 1 - presumably the furthest south the species has ever been found.
7. Everglades National Park - Southern FL
This world-famous park has a lot of work in the months ahead to assess invasive species status after the storm, as the surge is believed to has displaced and affected the local and invasive population. Hardy Burmese pythons already threaten the region.
8. Dry Tortugas National Park - Dry Tortugas Islands, FL
This historic remote island has crystal clear water for snorkeling, an old fort to explore, and the only regular nesting site in the U.S. for the Sooty Tern. Underwater, everything is bigger and brighter here. Storm damage is still being assessed.
9. National Key Deer Refuge - Big Pine Key, FL Keys
Locals and Keys visitors were concerned how the endangered Key deer would make out through the storm. Our hearts were offered some relief when a small group was seen running down U.S. 1 after the storm.
An alligator also lives in the Blue Lagoon inside the refuge. This is the only freshwater source on the island, and legend says that the gator found his way into the water source after another hurricane years ago.
10. Great White Heron National Refuge - Lower Keys to Key West, FL Keys
This beautiful stretch of land and sea provides protection from building zones while allowing light ocean traffic by way of kayaks, boats, and more. The Lower Keys were hardest hit in the storm. Though the tropical brush is quite sturdy against storms, the habitat has been immensely thinned out.
11. Florida Keys SPCA - Marathon and Key West, FL Keys
Help shelter pets by making a donation to this rescue group. "Wanky Paw" Bruce Wayne the chihuahua was rescued from the Marathon location.
Please note: electricity is still being restored to parts of the Keys. If you try to make a donation but are unable to get through at this time, consider marking your calendar a month from now to try again.
Other animal rescue organizations and animal shelters to donate to that are focusing on animal welfare in other hard-hit areas such as Barbuda, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Virgin Islands, and other islands in the Caribbean include Best Friends Animal Society, the Humane Society of the United States, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, response teams of these organizations need all the help they can get.
All pictures via Stacey Venzel.
Do you have another recommendation of how to help animals displaced by Hurricane Irma? Please share in the comments below.
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