TAMPA — Tallulah Trice's van stays gassed up and packed with cages. She often drives for more than 12 hours straight, taking animals from shelters where they are likely to die to shelters where they are likely to be adopted.
Her focus recently has been on rural Georgia communities ravaged by tornadoes. Now, she has added flood-ravaged towns near the Mississippi River.
Sometimes she takes rescued animals north to New Jersey or New York, but she also makes regular trips to the Tampa Bay area. Tuesday, she headed here again, to the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.
"All the animals I have in this van were scheduled to be euthanized," she said as she zipped down the interstate with more than 20 puppies and small dogs.
Trice, from Blufton, S.C., volunteers for the HAND Foundation. The 12-year-old non-profit specializes in transporting animals from high-kill facilities to those with high adoption rates.
She has seen firsthand the devastation in northwest Georgia after tornadoes tore through neighborhoods three weeks ago.
The Walker County Animal Shelter there is packed with animals found during the chaotic aftermath, as well as pets surrendered by families who can no longer care for them.
Dogs and cats that aren't adopted after a couple of weeks are often euthanized. But some families have no choice than to take their pets to the shelter.
People are renting apartments, moving in with family members and sometimes traveling long distances to start over, said Alison Smith, manager of the Walker County Animal Shelter.
"They said, 'We can't take our animals with us,' " she said. " 'We trust that you're going to try to find them a home and not put them to sleep.' "
Trice's frequent visits help ease the crush at the shelter, where the disaster further stretched resources. Demand for puppies and small dogs in Tampa means the pets she delivered Tuesday will likely be adopted this week.
"We believe that as soon as we're able to get them processed, we'll be able to find them homes here," said Sherry Silk, executive director of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.
In addition to the dogs from Georgia, the Humane Society will receive 40 puppies Friday from flood-ravaged communities near the Mississippi River. Because of space constraints, the Tampa shelter receives only small dogs and puppies from HAND.
People will be able to meet and possibly adopt the animals as early as Thursday, as long as the pets have no ailments to treat. The $125 adoption fee includes a medical evaluation, sterilization and microchipping.
Silk said the program allows Tampa Bay residents to become a part of the disaster relief efforts.
"We feel so bad for the folks up North," she said. "We're just trying to do our part."
Tia Mitchell can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3405.