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Monolithic Domes Protect 30 Humans and 800+ Pets from Hurricane Frances

October 5, 2004

by Freda Parker

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Can you imagine walking your dog during a category 2 hurricane? Can you picture yourself standing at a window, watching the hurricane's 105 mph winds battering your structure?

According to Frank Valente, Director of Operations at The Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League, that's exactly how he and some 29 other volunteers spent much of their time while Hurricane Frances raged through West Palm Beach, Florida on September 4, 5 and 6.

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Valente said, "We had over i a800 animals here at our shelter during Hurricane Frances. That included the pets who were already here, plus nearly another 300 that were brought in by people who had to evacuate the area.

Built in 1985, on a 14-acre site, this animal shelter consists of three, two-story Monolithic Domes. The smallest of the three, a dome with a diameter of 70 feet, provides office space and housing for a staff veterinarian and an ambulance driver.

The other two domes, each with a diameter of 130 feet, encompass areas used in the care of the hundreds of animals -- most abandoned by people who leave Florida after wintering there -- that the facility routinely rescues.

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During Hurricane Frances, Valente said that he stayed in the domes during the entire storm. "I felt perfectly safe -- experienced no stress other than worrying about what was going on outside the domes. But inside, I never once felt that we were at risk."

Apparently the animals were not that confident. Valente said, "They were nervous and finicky with their eating. Animals understand when something's going on, and they can read a human's concern. I also believe animals are very sensitive to certain types of storms, especially when the barometric pressure drops. During this hurricane, they were definitely aware that something was not normal."

To reassure their charges and keep them as calm as possible, Valente and his crew created a walking pen on the upper level of a dome so they could exercise the dogs. "Fortunately," Valente said, "we had plenty of food and water. The staff was wonderful, and the animals received very good care."

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When not busy caring for the animals, staff members watched Frances through the domes' curved windows, made of a double layer of heavy plastic. "If we didn't have those windows, we would not have known that there was a hurricane out there," Valente said. "That's how quiet it was inside. This storm was incredible to watch -- the horizontal rain and trees bent at 90-degree angles.

"I felt perfectly safe standing at those windows and watching," he added. "I saw a lot of flying debris. We have a couple of gas stations across the street from us. Their heavy signs got blown into our domes. Once it was all over and we were able to go outside, we could see that we suffered a severe loss of landscaping. We lost trees, fences, signs. Our property remained under water for a couple of days, and we discovered unpassable driveways. Many of our neighbors did not fare well -- roofs blown off and mobile homes destroyed."

As soon as Palm Beach officials begin warning residents of an impending disaster, The Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League provides its local media with public service announcements about its rescue service. "We encourage folks to take their pets with them to wherever they evacuate. But some people just can't do that. They may have no choice, other than a place that simply cannot or will not accept animals. Fortunately, we can and do."

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