60 Havanese dogs rescued from path of Hurricane Irma


While the toll from damage by hurricane Irma is still being tracked, a kennel in Charlestown is counting their blessings as their family of Havanese dogs arrived safely after a long journey from Fort Myers, Florida.

Holly Mastroianni, owner of Charlestown’s Royal Flush Havanese, spent the last week desperately trying to get her hands on any sort of vehicle to rescue her puppies from the path of the hurricane. Her business, Royal Flush Havanese, the only BBB certified breeder in Rhode Island with an A rating, has kennels in both Charlestown, Rhode Island and Fort Myers, Florida.

To avoid the of nine- to- 15 foot flooding and class 5 hurricane winds forecast, Mastroianni made plans for the pups escape.

“At the last minute we thought no we’ve got go find a way to get everybody in this van and get them out of here. If we didn’t, they’d all be dead. It was a life or death evacuation. It’s scary but I’m so thrilled that they made it and they’re here.”

Although Mastroianni had reserved two vans to transport the animals, the rentals were not returned, leaving Mastroianni with very few options.

“I tried flights. I tried to call and get private jets,” she explained.

Fortunately, she was able to wrangle a single U-Haul van. The puppies would be able to be moved to safety, but he van was not made to transport five-dozen dogs, consisting mostly of mothers and their litter of puppies.  Mastroianni prides her business as an exemplary model of breeding, with the small dog’s safety and happiness always the main priority.  Her crew worried even with air conditioning, the heat of the van with so man dogs traveling through Florida would cause too much distress.

“We actually had to pack the back of the van with ice initially in Florida because it was so hot and the air was not circulating enough even though the air conditioning was full blast.”

She said once it made it out of the Floridian heat the van’s air conditioning efficiently kept the animals cool. Using back roads to avoid traffic, the ride out of Florida took 10 hours, a ride that normally would take five and a half hours.

Two members of the Fort Myers crew, Charlotte Price and her sister, took the wheel and left for Rhode Island on Thursday, September 7 around 5 p.m. Making frequent stops to check on the pack, the travelers arrived in Charlestown at 3 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, 34 hours later.

Meanwhile, in preparation of the arrival in Rhode Island, the kennel contacted the Beacon for surplus copies of the newspaper. It was that contact that lead the paper to the unfolding story of the trip to Rhode Island.

“A day and a half of driving and stopping and cleaning and feeding and formula and water and ice and delivering puppies. The whole entire way. She’s a miracle. She’s a superstar,” Mastroianni said of Price.

Possibly stressed related, one Havanese delivered her litter early, adding a stop along the way for the drivers. As Royal Flush crews delivered a pair of puppies Friday night, Irma made landfall on Cuba and began blasting the island with winds reaching as fast as 125 mph. Coincidentally, Havanese are the national dog of Cuba, and are named after its capital city, Havana.

Mastroianni said she intends to keep one of the girls and name her Irma. Both puppies and mother are healthy and doing well.

On average, Mastroianni fetches $2,500 per puppy, but offers discounts when donations to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, or canned goods to the Rhode Island Center Assisting Those in Need.

Upon arrival, Mastroianni, Royal Flush general manager Amanda Bradley, along with 4 full-time Royal Flush employees and family volunteers made up a crew of 15 who unloaded the pups.

“We have more people here now because our Florida but our staff has not left. Everyone you see here was with me all day yesterday [Saturday]. Two of them were scheduled to go home and come back and help tonight and they said no, we don’t want to. We just want to stay. They just want to stay and be with the dogs,” Bradley said.

Every dog was washed, dried, brushed and cuddled. Even with all hands on deck, the process took over 15 hours.

“And a lot of love,” Bradley added.

Now, every dog, is settled in and doing fine.

“They’re immaculate. They’re happy. They’re running around playing. They’ve got plenty of space. Because this is how we designed our place,” Mastroianni said.

“They’d be dead,” the women said in unison.

Sitting behind her desk just one floor above the kennels, Mastroianni points to one of three screens showing live surveillance of each of the cubicles. Each one is filled with a mother and her puppies, many napping on the heated floors.

As of 10 a.m. Sunday, the feed from the Ft. Myers location cut out, which Mastroianni believes is due to a power loss.

“I don’t know what happens tomorrow. Will there be anything left? Will it be a 100 percent loss?”

She offered to assist any of her dozen employees from her recently renovated Ft. Myers’ location who wanted to leave as well.  All declined her offer for various reasons, but she said many decided to evacuate with their families instead.

The future of Ft. Myers’ Royal Flush looks bleak; Mastroianni does not believe she’ll reopen that location. Maintaining ethical and humane practices and treating her dogs as “royalty,” Mastroianni invested $100,000 to make the Florida facility a state-of-the-art dog kennel, and feels the new location should be closer to home.

“I’m seriously thinking of trying to find some place extremely local where I can rebuild our Florida place here. So I have my dogs here, and I have my Florida dogs nearby. I don’t think anybody is going to be able to get into Florida. I don’t think there’s going to be any electricity.”

Mastroianni set up a Fundly page to raise donations to deflect the costs of relocating the dogs, but said the cost was worth keeping them safe.

“We’re all here and we’re all alive. It’s a miracle.”


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We are so blessed! Irma spared our Florida location at the very last second! We are now headed back to Florida to bring all our dogs home!

Thursday, September 14, 2017