LARGO — Inside the shelter, dogs yelped, kittens mewled and volunteers shouted over the din to hear each other.
On a white board across an expanse of cages were the words "BREATHE" and "SMILE."
This is the new home of more than 100 pets rescued from the wreckage of Hurricane Ike after the storm flattened Galveston Island in Texas. Shelter volunteers hope it will be a temporary one.
"It was hot. It was sweaty. It was grueling," said Jenn Miler, 39, of St. Petersburg, a volunteer who went to the Galveston area to set up shelters, as she carried a black puppy on her shoulder. "It was wonderful."
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is asking residents to adopt these pets and hundreds of other animals that are crowding the Largo facility.
A semitrailer carried more than 100 rescued animals to the Largo shelter Tuesday. About 20 local volunteers had spent about a week in Galveston, setting up a temporary shelter and tracking down the pets' owners. Some did the challenging work of search and rescue, trekking the demolished island for signs of life.
"Their first instinct is to hide," explained Marissa Segundo, spokeswoman for the SPCA.
Some owners gave up their pets, hoping they would have better lives with new owners. They told the volunteers that they could hardly take care of themselves, much less a pet. For others, a trip to the shelter was more joyous.
"We had reunions all day, every day," said Connie Brooks, director of operations at SPCA Tampa Bay.
The SPCA promises this disaster adoption won't be like the one after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when original owners from the New Orleans area claimed pets that had been adopted out.
Anyone who adopts a pet from the Galveston area whose owner did not relinquish it will have to sign a waiver saying they will give the pet back if the owner claims it.
After Hurricane Katrina, the Humane Society of Pinellas adopted out two dogs that the original owners later claimed. The new owners would not give them up, and a legal battle ensued. The new owners finally settled with the Louisiana family before the case went to trial.
In response, Pinellas County passed an ordinance requiring a 120-day waiting period before pets recovered from a disaster can be permanently adopted.
Brooks said the volunteers tried to track down owners and put the word out that Galveston residents could claim their pets at the shelter before they loaded them up for the bay area.
"We didn't put anybody on the truck that wasn't researched," Brooks said.
Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.