By Dorie Cox
When the large door opened on the stern of the 240-foot yacht, 50 furry faces stared out at the volunteers on the dock.
Just a day before, these dogs had lived at the Bahamas Humane Society in Nassau, Bahamas.
It was 5:30 in the morning on Monday (Sept. 9) and the group of mostly “Potcakes”, medium-sized Bahamian dogs with smooth coats and cocked ears, had landed in a new country. They were transported across the Atlantic Gulf Stream to make room for animals displaced on the northern islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco a week after Hurricane Dorian tore through.
It was an easy decision for the yacht owners and crew of M/Y Laurel to volunteer with YachtAid Global (YAG), the Humane Society, and Big Dog Ranch Rescue in Loxahatchee, Florida. Everyone onboard is an animal lover, said Shani Davies, 2nd stew on M/Y Laurel. Plus, they already count a dog among their crew.
“Onboard, we have a very experienced boat dog,” Davies said by phone. Sterling is a white schnauzer with seven years of sea time.
The yacht’s trip started as Hurricane Dorian strengthened across the northern Bahamas. M/Y Laurel left Newport during the first week of September and took the long way, 1,600 nautical miles, toward the Bahamas on the east side of the storm, according to Purser Stephanie Hodges. Capt. Roy Hodges had made this trip before.
“We had a similar plan for Hurricane Irma,” Davies said. “Storms were monitored by Roy and our officers minute-by-minute to ensure we were well out of harm’s way.”
The yacht made landfall in Nassau where the crew and volunteers loaded medical supplies, water, non-perishable food, sanitary products, and more from YAG and Bahamas Humane Society.
“Even hay for horses, as horses were without food in affected areas,” Davies said. “You have to think of all the animals.”
Meanwhile, the dogs were loaded into travel crates, hoisted on to a transport truck, and driven to a dock for loading into M/Y Laurel’s tender garage. The yacht crew stacked the crates in neat rows in the air-conditioned garage for the six-hour crossing.
“People envision them running loose all over the yacht, but that would have been a mess,” Davies said.
Two veterinarians were on board to monitor and handle paperwork for the dogs to enter the United States while the crew took shifts with them. With yacht dog Sterling on board, they already had a dog-onboard routine and drop cloths down to protect the yacht’s teak decks.
“All our crew helped,” Davies said. “We went in to feed them, clean the crates, walk them when possible for fresh air or to go to the bathroom on Sterling’s grass patch.”
Many of the yacht’s 20 crew personally connected with various dogs, which had been named at the shelter in the Bahamas.
“At every opportunity, the crew were loving on them,” Davies said. She thought of her Scottish terrier back home in South Africa and knew this mission would help dogs get transported to the southern Bahamas where the hurricane did not cause major damage. She especially liked Beta, a little brown one.
“…You just look in their eyes and see they want to love and connect with you,” she said. “Many think these dogs are from the streets, but they are just like any other dogs, who, with love, will love you back.”
To keep things calm, the lights were turned off on the crossing. If one dog woke up, they all woke up, she said.
“And if one started barking, it rippled through,” Davies said. “But all-in-all it was very calm.”
The weather was good as the yacht dropped the loaded supplies to affected areas in the northern Bahamas and then headed across to Rybovich shipyard in West Palm Beach, Florida. Once docked, they waited for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to clear the dogs and crew into the United States.
“We were thrilled that our Chief Officer Wikus Botes and Capt. Roy were able to jump through all the logistical and paperwork hoops to make this happen,” Davies said.
By later that morning the crates were offloaded for transport to the rescue facility, Big Dog Ranch Rescue, for the dogs to be quarantined and eventually be available for adoption.
“We’re a little sad to see them go but are hopeful they will find homes soon,” Davies said. “But it’s nice that our home port is in Rybovich and the Big Dog Ranch Rescue said we’re welcome anytime.”
Dorie Cox is editor of The Triton. Comments are welcome below.