Bonnie: No Mercy For Strays

Even before Hurricane Bonnie struck land Wednesday, she had already claimed 18 victims.

That was how many cats and dogs New Hanover County's animal shelter put to death Tuesday to make room for pets left behind when their owners evacuated beach areas there.

The destroyed animals had not been claimed before the three- to five-day deadline.

Many more stray pets could be killed if the demand increases for cage space. Besides the unclaimed dogs and cats, the shelter will be forced to begin clearing out cages now occupied by pets recently declared "adoptable" those that had received shots, passed health exams and were deemed suitable to live with a new family.

Judy Evonko's spirits sank when she heard the evacuation order, knowing its implications.

She runs the shelter, and it's her job to house scores of pets that evacuees leave behind for safekeeping.

"I hope we don't have to go into our adoptable room," Evonko said. "It really dampens your spirit when you're just putting everything down."

As a service to county residents fleeing the hurricane, the shelter houses pets that owners are unable to take with them to shelters or motels.

"We feel like it makes sense to yield space up for an animal that is already owned and cared for," said field officer Jean McNeil. "But it doesn't make this any easier for us."

During Hurricane Fran in 1996, the shelter was forced to kill 40 strays.

Other animal shelters along the coast that do not board pets had another worry surviving the storm.

"This building will take a big test," said Lauri Betts, director of animal care and control for Dare County. "But we've got windows boarded up, plenty of supplies on hand, and we're hunkering down right here with the 27 dogs and 16 cats, and the rabbit and rooster too."