The e-mail to Atlanta Pet Rescue volunteers went out early Sunday morning, after volunteer coordinator Cathy Roth heard a snowstorm was headed for the city. Responses started coming back in 10 minutes.
"Within six hours, every animal in the shelter was gone. It was phenomenal," Roth said. The Midtown shelter's 21 dogs and seven cats are now safely dispersed into volunteer's homes.
With a thick blanket of iced snow slicking city roads — and predicted to stay that way as late as Saturday — local shelters have had to get resourceful, or risk stranding animals.
Patrick Palmer, a manager at the Atlanta Humane Society, put his two sons in the care of a relative, packed a bag and arrived at the shelter by 4 p.m. Sunday, right before snow started falling. He's planning to stay at least through Tuesday, sleeping in one of the facility's two on-site apartments and watching after hundreds of dogs and cats.
"I'm just gonna ride this thing out. I don't want the animals to get neglected," Palmer said. "That's the reason I came — I know how these things go. And I'm on salary, so it's not like I'm getting paid (extra) for it."
On Monday and again Tuesday, the Humane Society closed its public shelter services, like adoption and the Wellness Hospital. Another staff member and two volunteers dropped by for a while to help Palmer clean Monday morning, he added, but he had it "under control" on his own, too.
"Everybody's pretty comfortable. I'm clammed down for the day," he said late Monday afternoon, leaning back in a chair in the shelter lobby and chatting with a shelter employee who'd just ridden and pushed his bicycle through crunchy drifts of snow to get in for his shift.
Some of the dogs from Atlanta Pet Rescue are getting an introduction to that snow on their foster-vacation away from the shelter this week.
Volunteer Karen Levy is taking care of Max, a Shih Tzu and new arrival to the shelter, at her home near Piedmont Hospital. Max was found wandering the streets this past weekend, she said, his fur matted and snarled with burrs. (Max and the other animals available for adoption at Atlanta Pet Rescue are individually profiled on the organization's website.)
On Monday, she took Max and her miniature Pinscher-Schnauzer, Diesel, for a romp in the snow. The dogs are both almost light enough to walk on top of the snow, but fell through often and staggered to find their footing again.
"It looked like they were drunk. It's deep snow for these little dogs,"Levy said.
Ilene Silverberg, who took in a fluffy Wheaten Terrier named Vodka, has been enjoying working from home while she watches her own two dogs play around her Ansley Park home with Vodka.
"They played all day in the snow. You could kinda see (Vodka) high-stepping it through the snow," said Silverberg, who's volunteered at Atlanta Pet Rescue since 2009.
Judy Price, the founder and director of the shelter, praised the volunteer force for committing so quickly and keeping the animals "snug."
Atlanta's snow emergency is coming at a particularly hard time for the shelter. More and more people are surrendering pets they can't afford or can't handle, due to the bad economy, holiday stress or moving. Because the shelter has a "finite capacity" and doesn't euthanize, Price added, "all we can do is pedal faster and harder."
Busy as it is, Levy calls the shelter her "happy place." Adopting Diesel six years ago changed her life, she said, and eventually led her to open a petsitting business, Laughing Pets Atlanta. She can't take on a second dog right now, but Max is tugging at her heart by being "real sweet."
"It will be hard not to keep him until he gets adopted," Levy said.