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East Lyme — Jessica Hamilton slept with the “big guys” Monday at the American Red Cross regional shelter, and she couldn’t have been happier.
Her cot-side companions in the lower level of East Lyme Middle School were a Doberman pinscher and a standard poodle whose owners had sought shelter during Hurricane Sandy.
“I slept like a rock star,” said the full-time volunteer with Waterford/East Lyme Animal Control.
Hamilton said the dogs’ crates were within barking distance but out of sight of the other animals.
“We kept them separately, because they were a little crazy,” she said. “Their families came down all the time and played with them and walked them.”
While Red Cross workers and volunteers were dealing with 230 shelter guests on the first level of the middle school during the peak of the storm, Hamilton had tended to 11 dogs, one cat and one hamster.
“Look at his little face,” she said of Charley, the long-haired Chihuahua from Old Lyme. She blew him kisses as his family took him from his crate, snapped on his leash and led him away at a trot.
Only Holly, a white Chihuahua; Skipper, a black lab; Shiloh, a Basset hound mix; and Ginger, a calico cat, remained. Skipper was getting a little rowdy inside his crate, so Hamilton, who says she loves her work “with every bit of my soul” and who was recently celebrated as the Volunteer of the Year for the state, fed him a biscuit.
“We’re blowing through these because you’re so sweet,” she told the dog.
Hamilton said the pet shelter, a relatively new concept, had worked out well. The animal owners, who were able to visit with and walk their dogs, bonded, she said. The animals were relatively calm, she said.
“When this place was full, considering the whole entire situation, the dogs did so amazingly well,” she said.
Laughing, she added that the animals “probably did better than half the people.”
Upstairs, shelter manager Dawn Davis was dealing with nonstop questions from guests and walk-ins who wanted to charge their phones and laptops or get a cup of hot coffee.
The biggest influx of people came between 5 and 8 p.m. Monday. Sixty people were transferred from the New London shelter due to concerns about the capacity of the generator at the Winthrop School. Around the same time, 40 new people from all of the area communities arrived.
“It was a very interesting couple of hours, but everybody came together,” Davis said.
By Tuesday morning, some were anxious to leave the shelter, though they knew they would have no power at home. Others said they live alone and wanted to stay indefinitely.
Though the facility is operating as a residential shelter rather than a respite location for people who were not staying, Davis didn’t turn them away. The shelter will remain open as long as necessary, Davis said.
Adele Sosnowski, 89, of Uncasville had been at the shelter since it opened at 4 p.m. Sunday. She slept in the gymnasium the first night but said the shelter workers moved the guests into the hallway Monday when the wind speed picked up.
“A lady next to me snored all night,” Sosnowski said. “She was louder than the hurricane.”
Lest she seem ungrateful, Sosnowski went on to rave about the “beautiful breakfast” that had been served and the attention to detail from the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other volunteers.
“People should be very grateful for everything that’s been done,” she said.