Van Wert native and Marine Courtney Jewel is pictured feeding a stray dog in Thailand. (Photo submitted)
Van Wert native and Marine Courtney Jewel is pictured feeding a stray dog in Thailand. (Photo submitted)

VAN WERT – Van Wert native and Marine Courtney Jewel, who is stationed at Cherry Point and lives in New Bern, North Carolina, recently made a 19-hour trek back home with seven dogs and one rat, in order to escape Hurricane Florence. Two of the seven dogs were rescues she took under her wing right before the hurricane threat became imminent.

Around two weeks ago, Jewel found a stray hound dog that was emaciated.

“I was trying to re-home him myself. However, I wasn’t having the best of luck,” said Jewel, a 2011 Vantage and Lincolnview graduate. “I didn’t want to take him to a shelter because our euthanasia rate in North Carolina is ungodly; it’s about in the 90 percent range.”

The no-kill shelters at the time were at full capacity, so Jewel had planned to drive the dog to Virginia to give him to a no-kill shelter there. However, with Hurricane Florence threatening the area, she ran out of time to do so and decided to bring him back to Van Wert with her.

The second rescue was a puppy from a pregnant dog that Jewel found months ago. She re-homed a litter of 10 puppies, but then received a call on Sunday from a lady who took one of the dogs in. The lady said she couldn’t care for the dog anymore, and when Jewel picked the puppy up, he was underweight.

“I took him in, and I said, ‘you know what, there’s no point [in trying to re-home him in North Carolina], I’m just going to bring him home,’” said Jewel. “It was Sunday that I got him, and then we had to evacuate. We drove all day [Wednesday] and finally got here (Van Wert).”

Hurricane Florence, a category one hurricane,  began hitting the North Carolina coast on Thursday and made landfall early Friday. By that time, Jewel and her animals were safe back in Van Wert.

“We got word on Tuesday that we were allowed to go home and start evacuating,” said Jewel. “For a lot of the bases, it wasn’t a mandatory evacuation; you had the choice if you wanted to leave or not. A lot of people did stay. However, I live in a flood zone right on a river, so it wasn’t really an option for me.”

In the days leading up to the evacuation, Jewel said the environment in North Carolina was very panicky and that many resources including gasoline, diesel, water, and food were sold out.

“We didn’t expect it to be this bad; we had heard different news, and by the time we realized it was going to be bad, everyone tried to leave at once,” Jewel said.

A drive that normally would take around 12 hours took Jewel and her father around 19 hours, with many stops along the way. Each time they were stuck in traffic, they would let the dogs out for fresh air and to stretch their legs.

The two rescues that Jewel brought home quickly found a place to go after Jewel’s sister, Whitney Hunt, placed a post on Facebook stating that the dogs needed a home. The Fort Defiance Humane Society, a no-kill shelter in Defiance, offered to take the dogs.

“They said that the application process that they have is very detailed, and they make sure the dogs are going to the right home,” said Jewel.

Jewel and her sister took the dogs to the shelter on Thursday.

Abandonment of animals during inclement weather has made headlines recently, but for Jewel, leaving her dogs and rat behind was not an option.

“I see them as living creatures; I’m not going to put them through that if I have a chance and I have the ability to bring them back,” said Jewel. “There’s a really big problem with people leaving their animals behind or leaving them chained outside.”

Jewel noted that the Cajun Navy had been deployed to the area to look for abandon dogs that were either left behind in homes or chained up.

So far, dozens of reports have poured in of dogs abandoned by their owners during Hurricane Florence. Jewel urges those who are faced with inclement weather to never abandon their pet.

“I just want to stress the fact that you shouldn’t leave animals behind,” said Jewel. “You definitely shouldn’t leave them chained up outside during inclement weather or even at all.”