On Kate and Warren Sherwood's block, five houses were burned to the ground.
"We barely got out of our house in time," Kate Sherwood said.
They took refuge at a hotel that didn't accept cats.
"We sneaked them in and put a 'do not disturb' sign on the door — pretending we're on our honeymoon," said Warren Sherwood, 56, a systems analyst. "But after three days, they got restless and starting meowing."
The couple took them to the Nassau gym shelter, run by the North Shore Animal League America, the nation's largest no-kill rescue and adoption organization.
"We're ridiculously stressed out, we're freaked out," said Warren Sherwood. "But I'd do anything in the world for these people who are keeping our cats alive."
Also among the pets in the gym was Emma, a Manchester terrier that swam to safety through flooded streets in Freeport on Long Island, while its owners carried their cats above the water, plus some clothes they grabbed at the last minute.
"We lost our house. It's submerged," said Mark Swing, who fled with his girlfriend as the tides rose. "All we got out was our four cats and the dog, except for a few changes of clothes."
The 8-year-old terrier was "a little tired, but fine," said Swing, 48, a contractor who was in a Red Cross shelter.
Cats and dogs weren't the only pets rescued from the storms.
"We're finding chinchillas, guinea pigs, rabbits, reptiles, birds," said Dawson.
And then, there was the tarantula, left behind in the New York City borough of Staten Island, in a home inspectors deemed uninhabitable.
The spider belonged to a teenage boy who was also attached to his gerbils. He and his family were forced to evacuate.
His aunt in Brooklyn agreed to take in the gerbils, but no one wanted the hairy tarantula. The teen left it behind with lots of food — in hopes the spider could be retrieved later.
Like their owners, many animals that survived won't go home anytime soon. They're being housed and fed thanks to the kindness of strangers.
Transport trailers distributed pet food and supplies like crates, leashes and litter from a warehouse in Queens set up days before Sandy descended, said Schneider. Tons of food is being trucked in, donated by Petsmart Charities, Iams, Del Monte Foods, Purina and the Petco Foundation.
It will be months before any estimates are available as to how many pets might have died or were lost during New York's double storms.
Dawson says she's seen people stuck in shelters, wearing donated clothing, with no idea when they'll go home. But when they turn to their dog or cat, "their faces light up."
And that, she says, is why animals matter amid a human disaster.
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