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PetSafe gifts pet owners fleeing Hurricane Florence with toys, treats at Hotel Knoxville

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PetSafe offers relief for Hurricane Florence evacuees in Knoxville Friday, Sept. 14, 2018. Knoxville News Sentinel

For a dog, a hurricane evacuation may as well be a vacation.

Dogs like Zoe and Cooper – both fleeing Hurricane Florence from the battered coastal town of New Bern, North Carolina – had an extra-pampered getaway at their refuge, Hotel Knoxville by Marriott, where their families were gifted toys, treats and survival supplies from Knoxville’s PetSafe on Friday.

The global company fanned out to pet-friendly hotels across Knoxville to greet evacuees with animals in tow and load them up with essentials they may not have had time to pack during the race to escape the storm’s landfall.

The giveaway also served to ease stress levels of both pets and their owners, said Rosalee Kaschel, PetSafe’s dog training and education manager, who sensed dogs’ stress while interacting with them and offering comfort.

The dogs were thrown off by their new surroundings, by the hotel elevators, by other dogs and even by their owners, according to Kaschel, noting she saw clear signs of stress in dogs like hypervigilance, a lot of panting and tails tucked.

“They pick up on their owner’s stress, so a lot of times that makes them more uneasy,” she said.

The company, stationed in the hotel lobby, offered up travel accessories like car tethers for seat belts and car covers as well as drinking fountains made for dogs and toys that can occupy their attention.

They also had tips for curbing hurricane-induced stress for owners taking pets on the road, such as having plenty of treats on hand that can help redirect a dog’s attention and give them something positive, particularly in cases when a dog is afraid or in an unfamiliar situation, Kaschel said.

About 10 dogs hunkering down in the hotel with their families stopped by, according to Kaschel, who hoped they returned to their rooms in a calmer state and panting less.

She wanted evacuees at the hotel to walk away feeling “a little bit less stressed about what is going on” as she and a band of colleagues aimed to provide comfort and help in a tough set of circumstances.

More: Zoo Knoxville, others welcome Hurricane Florence evacuees with free admission, food, more

More: Hurricane Florence: Tennessee offers evacuees free tickets to UT Vols’ game vs. UTEP

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A parade of pets

Hotel Knoxville by Marriott has 50 rooms of Hurricane Florence evacuees with 29 dogs and four cats calling the venue their temporary home, according to general manager Tracy Hicks, who helped tee up the pet supplies giveaway with evacuees caring for their animals top of mind. 

The hotel also relaxed its pet fee and policy so that guests won’t be charged the typical fee unless they damage a room and so that guests had more flexibility to bring pets. 

Usually, the hotel welcomes only dogs and no more than two – up to 75 pounds each – to a room, Hicks said.

Leading up to the hurricane, the hotel fielded phone calls from pet owners panicking about how to accommodate their animals, including horses.

The hotel responded that it doesn’t take horses, “but we know somebody that does,” Hicks said, pointing to the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

With the hotel’s clientele primarily consisting of corporate business travelers, Hicks and its staff had to strategize and rethink their approach to the guest experience as evacuees booked their rooms.

Along with ensuring rooms were prepared for families’ needs – with basic necessities like highchairs – they also took extra steps to keep evacuees’ spirits up, in one case hosting a birthday party for a girl whose presents and cake were left behind at home.

“We got an opportunity to service a different clientele and it’s been phenomenal,” Hicks said. “I’m very proud of this team. They’ve pulled together very quickly.”

Word from home

By Friday afternoon, evacuees in Knoxville were slowly learning how their homes and belongings fared from those back home who rode out the Category 1 storm.

Zoe, a lab mix, sat still with owner Ryan Frantz while his children, 4-year-old Emee and 3-year-old Abbott, ran off some of their energy throughout the lobby.

“I think she likes the vacation,” Frantz said of his dog.

The family, including Frantz’s wife, Melissa, left their New Bern house under a mandatory evacuation order.

Frantz, a pilot with Marine Attack Squadron 223 out of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, flew a jet into McGhee Tyson Airport on Tuesday night while the rest of his family drove out of town Tuesday morning.

How long will he seek shelter in Knoxville?

“We’ll see,” said Frantz, who’s staying at the hotel while his wife and children stay with his wife’s family near Johnson City. “Who knows? Optimistically, Tuesday. Pessimistically, indefinitely.”

It’ll all depend on the damage, he said, though his home looks to be intact.

Neighbors who remained at home have let the family know their neighborhood did not suffer terrible flooding, unlike downtown New Bern.

Jessica Felter’s New Bern home also appears to be standing strong even with six trees down in their yard, according to reports her family received from those who rode out the storm.

Felter packed up a van of supplies, four children and their dog Cooper – part lab, part shepherd – to meet her husband, Trevor, in Knoxville, where he also flew as a Marine aviator and a major with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 264 out of Cherry Point.

They’re now sprawled between two hotel rooms with a dog enjoying the opportunity to partake in a family trip, Felter said.

Both New Bern families have lived through monstrous storms before and don’t anticipate it will be a life-changing weather event for them.

Felter wouldn’t go so far as to put Florence on par with Hurricane Katrina or the devastation Puerto Rico endured during last year’s busy hurricane season.

“That’s life changing,” Felter said. “That’s catastrophic. We just survived a (Category) 1 with high tide.”

 

Read or Share this story: https://knoxne.ws/2xd8Sce

Source: https://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/2018/09/14/petsafe-treats-pet-owners-fleeing-hurricane-florence-hotel-knoxville/1303466002/

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