BRISTOL — Road-weary and sleep-deprived, Wise County resident Chris Haverly drove hundreds of miles Thursday to help relocate German shepherds from the path of Hurricane Florence.
Haverly, who makes weekly trips for Wise County Animal Rescue, had just returned to Big Stone Gap on Wednesday night from a 550-mile round trip rescue to Staunton when his phone rang. Furlife German Shepherd Rescue, between Myrtle Beach and Charleston, S.C., had more than 100 dogs that needed to be moved immediately.
“I was planning on doing something after the hurricane hit — feed horses, get cows out of trees or whatever had to be done,” Haverly said Thursday in a phone interview on the road after 36 sleepless hours. “I was going to bed when I got the message.”
Others were going to help but they needed someone else with a vehicle that could carry up to 20 dogs in crates. The tricky part, Haverly said, was authorities planned to close roadways at 11 a.m., so the rescuers had to arrive before then.
“I’m sure I woke all my neighbors up getting the crates out of the van. I pulled out about 2 in the morning,” said Haverly.
He reached South Carolina about 5 a.m., but — with part of Interstate 26 eastbound closed — was forced to wind his way across two-lane roads through a succession of small towns before reaching the facility in rural Huger, S.C.
“I’ve been to Myrtle Beach probably 50 times. I drove for miles and didn’t see a car or even people outside,” he said. “A lot of the businesses had their windows boarded up.”
Only a few fast-food restaurants were open, and they were serving customers only through the drive-thru lanes.
The rescue was a massive undertaking for the staff and volunteers of Furlife, founder and President Danielle Bellknapp said Thursday.
“We probably had 100 people helping us in some way. We had an evacuation plan ahead of time, but the day we were supposed to leave one person backed out,” Bellknapp said.
Using social media and a network of contacts, Bellknapp and her team were able to secure enough people and vehicles to relocate three horses, eight cats and 112 dogs.
She said they expect to be in Tennessee until midweek before moving the animals back to South Carolina.
Haverly said it was cloudy and windy as he and other volunteers — using horse trailers, vans and other vehicles — loaded up and headed to their temporary home at a farm in Newport, Tenn. Eleven made the journey with Haverly.
“Most of these dogs have been picked up as strays or surrendered by the owners, so they’ve already been through hell to start with and now they’re crammed in the back of a van, in a crate, going somewhere else. They’ve been pretty quiet; I guess they handle it better than people do,” he said.
Amid the heavy flow of westbound traffic on Interstates 26 and 40 on Thursday, Haverly was pleased to see that many other vehicles contained dogs.
“I don’t know how many people I passed, or they passed me, had their dogs sitting up in the front seat or looking out the back window. Hopefully, a lot of people didn’t leave their animals behind and think enough of them to treat them like a family member and bring them with them.”
A former coal miner and mine owner, Haverly has spent much of the past two years as a volunteer driver for the Wise County group.
“Every time a puppy licks your face or a dog looks you in the eye like it loves you — wags that tail — that makes getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning worth it,” he said.