There is nothing like a meal at the Waffle House after driving more than 60 animals from the South Carolina coast to southern Alabama inside a school bus. Tony Alsup can attest. Alsup, a 51-year-old trucker from Greenback, Tenn., was parked at a Waffle House outside Fayetteville, N.C., on Sunday night for a quick pit stop and a plate of waffles and grits. He had been on the road since Monday, when he hopped in his bus and headed toward the coast, committed to rescuing as many animals as possible ahead of Hurricane Florence. Inside the bus, the seats have been ripped out to make room for its passengers. On the bus’s side are the words “EMERGENCY ANIMAL RESCUE SHELTER.” But it could have said “Noah’s Ark.” In the last week, Alsup and his bus have rescued 53 dogs and 11 cats from South Carolina shelters that were in Florence’s treacherous path, as first reported by the Greenville News. And come morning, Alsup expects to search for more. “I’m like, look, these are lives too,” Alsup told The Washington Post during his Waffle House stop. “Animals — especially shelter pets — they always have to take the back seat of the bus. But I’ll give them their own bus. If I have to I’ll pay for all the fuel, or even a boat, to get these dogs out of there.”
Alsup, who wants to open his own animal shelter one day, has been rescuing shelter pets from floodwaters with his school bus since Hurricane Harvey ravaged the Texas coast last year. When Alsup saw on the news how numerous animal shelters had become overcrowded with lost or rescued animals, he thought he could help. He wanted to help transport the animals to vacant shelters — but he knew he couldn’t put them in a semitrailer
“I thought, well what can I do?” he said. “I’ll just go buy a bus.”
He has since helped with rescues during Hurricanes Irma and Maria (no bus for the latter; he was feeding horses) and now during Florence. Last Monday, when Alsup began his latest rescues, the kennels in his vehicle were stacked from floor to ceiling. Pet food, water bowls, leashes and toys were strewn about the aisle. But as he rolled along his route, Alsup kept telling his Facebook followers that he had room for more, asking them to point him to where pets needed help. “NO ONE LEFT BEHIND,” he wrote in one Facebook post, before signing off with his standard line, “Love y’all, mean it.” In less than 48 hours, he stopped at the Humane Society of North Myrtle Beach (S.C.), the Dillon County (S.C.) Animal Shelter, another in Orangeburg, S.C., and Saint Frances Animal Center in Georgetown, S.C., which sang his praises on social media Sunday. In a Facebook post late Sunday, the Saint Frances Animal Center said that Alsup was rescuing all the “leftover” pets — the dogs and cats the shelter couldn’t seem to hand off to anyone else.
“It’s all true. Tony swooped in at 4am Wednesday morning to pick up our ‘leftovers’ — the dogs with blocky heads, the ones with heartworm,” the center wrote on Facebook. “The ones no one else will ever take. And he got them to safety. Not the most conventional evacuation, but surely the one with the most heart.”
Once he had them in his bus, Alsup drove to Foley, Ala., where his friend, Angela Eib-Maddux, opened her privately run dog shelter to the new arrivals for the night. She gave them baths and fluffy blankets and “spa treatment,” Alsup said, until they could find enough shelters or foster homes for the animals. They managed to do it in a matter of a day. “We just burned up the airwaves,” Alsup said. Some people came to adopt some of the dogs and cats on the spot, while Alsup coordinated with other animal shelters or volunteers to meet him in Knoxville, Tenn., where he would hand off about 40 others. From there, Alsup said the remaining dogs and cats went off to vacant shelters across the country. And then after a short rest he got back on the road Sunday, and drove until he got to the Waffle House. On Monday, he will head to Wilmington, N.C. — if he can make it there. He said he’s heard the roads are closed, that everything is flooded and no one can get through. But he heard there was a shelter that needed him, he said, so he is going to try.