The United States has seen its share of foul weather in recent years, specifically when it comes to devastating hurricanes. Storms like Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, and more recently Florence, have wreaked havoc on many of our coastal cities. These storms have left destruction and hardship in their wake, but they have also brought a certain type of heroism out in people.
From travelers working together to overturn a sinking car, to police officers sailing in to help people trapped on roofs, people have come together in the wake of these storms to help one another. A 51-year-old trucker named Tony Alsup is no exception.
A Trucker’s Life
Tony Alsup was born to be on the road. The Greenback, Tennessee, trucker was the type of man who lived for the journey. In his many years on the road, Alsup had seen much of what American highways and byways had to offer. This included truck stops, roadside attractions, and of course, Waffle Houses.
The great American Waffle House is an institution around this great country of ours, and Alsup was a man who appreciated their frequent appearances down the interstate. As our story begins, we see Alsup sitting outside a Fayetteville, North Carolina Waffle House. He’d stopped to make a much-needed pit stop and have some waffles.
The Long Road
Inside his bus, his passengers sat bored and uncertain of what lay ahead of them. Most of them had been on the road with Alsup for a couple days. They were heading towards salvation after facing the potential destruction of the latest hurricane to smash its way towards the coast: Hurricane Florence.
Alsup had been searching for those in need prior to the hurricane. He had heard that if Florence hits as hard as people believed it was going to, they would have no homes, nowhere to go. So he answered the call and drove down to pick them up in the only vehicle he thought could hold them all: a school bus.
The side of Alsup’s bus gives onlookers a bit of a hint as to the type of hurricane refugee he is transporting. Written in big, bold letters are the words “EMERGENCY ANIMAL RESCUE SHELTER.” Though, if one were to look inside the bus itself, they’d realize that it might be more apt to call the bus Noah’s Ark.
That’s right, the homeless, storm-ravaged refugees that Tony Alsup was transporting in his bus, were pets. Specifically, shelter animals rescued from many of South Carolina’s hurricane-affected sections of the state. It had started as a simple act of altruism, but Alsup’s determination was matched only by his commitment.
Transporting 53 dogs and 11 cats from various cities inside an old bus is not an easy task. One cannot expect that they’ll all stay buckled in their seats, after all. To prepare for what was bound to be a loud, difficult trip, Alsup ripped out the bus’s seats entirely and filled the inside of the vehicle with animal crates and cages.
It would be a week-long trek for Alsup and his many animal companions. The goal was to get them as far away from Florence’s treacherous path as they possibly could. But why would someone like Alsup take the time, money, and drive all that way through the storm in order to help a bunch of animals?
In the Business
A lifetime animal lover, Alsup is an older man who has driven a truck for most of his life. Like everyone else, he wants to settle down one day and when he does, he wants to be able to open up his own animal shelter. His heroic actions on behalf of those downtrodden dogs and the ensuing viral story would ultimately help him in this goal.
Only One Way
Alsup first found out about the plight of these animals while watching the news. He saw how there were numerous overcrowded animal shelters all throughout the hurricane zone. They were experiencing a swell of additional animal rescues and could not properly care for them all. The plan was to transport the overflow rescues to other vacant shelters, and Alsup knew he could help.
The Bus Route
Nevertheless, Alsup also knew that he couldn’t just put the animals in a semi-trailer and haul them that way. Big trucks weren’t well-ventilated or secure enough to safely transport the animals. So, Alsup went out and bought an old school bus. Then he loaded the kennels into the vehicle, bought pet food, water bowls, leashes and toys, and began the trip.
His first forays into shelter animal rescue began while rescuing animals from Hurricane Harvey in Texas last year. He had his old school bus back then as well. Alsup has also helped to rescue other animals during Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. Though, in Maria, he left his bus behind because he was feeding abandoned horses.
They Deserve Life
Alsup spoke to The Washington Post recently and explained his thoughts on the difficult drive. “I’m like, look, these are lives too. 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.”
The heroic trucker didn’t have just one stop either. He picked up rescue animals from a number of shelters and in less than 48 hours, had stopped at five different South Carolina shelters: The Humane Society of North Myrtle Beach, the Dillon County Animal Shelter, another in Orangeburg, and Saint Frances Animal Center in Georgetown.
No One Left Behind
All of the sites were glad to see him and to know that the animals in their charge were in good hands. Flush as he was with animals, however, he still managed to find room for more as he drove. He even kept his Facebook followers abreast of the situation and asked that they point him to even more animals that needed his help.
The Saint Frances Animal Center also kept their Facebook updated with news of Alsup’s amazing journey. They called the dogs and cats, leftover pets, the ones with heartworm, weird heads, or difficult dispositions – essentially, the ones that no one else wanted. But Alsup swooped in and took them anyway and got them to safety.
Once he had the “leftovers” safely on the bus with the others, Alsup drove them all to Foley, Alabama. The trucker’s friend, Angela Eib-Maddux, ran a private dog shelter there and consented to let he and his charges stay there for a while. She proceeded to give them the best treatment many of them had ever experienced.
All Accounted For
She gave all the dogs baths, fluffy blankets, and the full “spa treatment.” She also held them until the two could find homes for them all. They didn’t have long to wait, however. Within a day, people were calling in and contacting Angela about coming to pick up their pets and take them to their new forever homes.
On the Spot
Alsup was not content to leave the rest of the overflow animals without homes, so he coordinated with other animal shelters and asked for a bunch of them and volunteers to meet him in Knoxville, Tennessee. Once there, he handed the 40 or so other animals off to vacant shelters all across the U.S.
In the wake of Hurricane Florence, he drove down to Wilmington, North Carolina to answer the call of a shelter in need of help. Alsup did what he always did, he braved closed roads, flooded highways, and driving rain to rescue those who couldn’t help themselves. Today, Alsup continues to do what he can for local shelters, until the day he can finally open his own.