Tennessee man rescues South Carolina shelter animals in Hurricane Floren…

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Tony Alsup, 51, a Tennessee trucker, prepares to return to South Carolina to rescue pets from Tropical Storm Florence with his school bus. Alsup transported 64 dogs and cats to Alabama on Monday. And yes, his ringtone is "Who Let the Dogs Out?"

Tony Alsup, 51, a Tennessee trucker, prepares to return to South Carolina to rescue pets from Tropical Storm Florence with his school bus. Alsup transported 64 dogs and cats to Alabama on Monday. And yes, his ringtone is “Who Let the Dogs Out?” Shelley Mays/The Tennessean

Sixty-four dogs and cats are rescued from shelters in the path of Tropical Storm Florence and shipped on a school bus to a shelter in Alabama on Monday. Trucker Tony Alsup described the rescue as a calling.

Sixty-four dogs and cats are rescued from shelters in the path of Tropical Storm Florence and shipped on a school bus to a shelter in Alabama on Monday. Trucker Tony Alsup described the rescue as a calling. Provided by Tony Alsup

Animal crates fill East Tennessee resident and truck driver Tony Alsup's school bus that he purchased to rescue shelter animal. On Monday he drove the bus to South Carolina to pick up dogs and cats from shelters in the path Hurricane Florence.  Alsup transported 64 dogs and cats to Alabama and plans to go back.

Animal crates fill East Tennessee resident and truck driver Tony Alsup’s school bus that he purchased to rescue shelter animal. On Monday he drove the bus to South Carolina to pick up dogs and cats from shelters in the path Hurricane Florence. Alsup transported 64 dogs and cats to Alabama and plans to go back. Shelley Mays/The Tennessean

East Tennessee resident and truck driver Tony Alsup drove his school bus to South Carolina to rescue shelter dogs and cats in the path Hurricane Florence.  Alsup transported 64 dogs and cats to Alabama and plans to go back.

East Tennessee resident and truck driver Tony Alsup drove his school bus to South Carolina to rescue shelter dogs and cats in the path Hurricane Florence. Alsup transported 64 dogs and cats to Alabama and plans to go back. Shelley Mays/The Tennessean

Tony Alsup used his school bus to transport South Carolina shelter animal to a safer location.

Tony Alsup used his school bus to transport South Carolina shelter animal to a safer location. submitted

East Tennessee resident Tony Alsup in his school bus with shelter pets from South Carolina  Alsup transported 64 dogs and cats to Alabama and plans to go back.

East Tennessee resident Tony Alsup in his school bus with shelter pets from South Carolina Alsup transported 64 dogs and cats to Alabama and plans to go back. submitted,

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Tony Alsup closed the door of his old yellow school bus then hit the gas, fleeing from the dark skies and strong winds that loomed offshore. In the bus seats behind him, confused passengers barked and meowed as they were driven to safety.

To Alsup, these pets were “the leftovers.” Somebody had to save them.

“It’s so easy for people to adopt the small pets and the cuties and the cuddly,” Alsup said, standing next to an old school bus that reeked of wet dog. “We take on the ones that deserve a chance even though they are big and a little ugly. But I love big dogs, and we find places for them.”

Alsup, 51, a trucker from Greenback, Tennessee, drove into South Carolina last week to fill a school bus with dogs and cats from animal shelters in the path of Hurricane Florence, which was bearing down on the Carolina coast. Florence was downgraded to a tropical storm after it made landfall Friday, but strong winds, torrential rain and flood waters have devastated communities and killed at least 11 people.

But on Monday, when the hurricane was still a few days from shore, Alsup drove his school bus to shelters in four South Carolina towns – North Myrtle Beach, Dillon, Georgetown and Orangeburg – loading up 53 dogs and 11 cats and busing them to an awaiting shelter in Foley, Alabama. From there, the pets will be spread to shelters throughout the country, ready to be adopted.

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Alsup, 51, a trucker from Greenback, Tennessee, drove to South Carolina last Monday to fill a school bus with dogs and cats from animal shelters in the path of Hurricane Florence. Shelley Mays, smays@tennessean.com

This was not Alsup’s first rescue. Over the past year, he’s hauled shelter pets out of hurricane zones in Texas and Florida and flown to Puerto Rico to save even more. Rescues like these have become a calling, Alsup said, although they actually began with a misunderstanding.

That was a year ago, as Hurricane Harvey was bearing down on Houston and Alsup saw a plea online for anyone who could help evaluate shelter pets out of the storm’s path. Alsup volunteered to transfer pets in his semi-truck. The shelters assumed he meant he could transfer dozens of dogs, while Alsup meant that he would carry a few in the cab of his truck.

“You’ve got to be very careful what you say on social media man,” Alsup said chuckling, “but I’m a man of my word. If I give you my word, it’s gonna get done.

“So I said, you know what, why don’t I just go buy a bus?”

Soon, Alsup had spent $3,200 to buy an old school bus, then drove to Texas to fill it with pets for the first time. He’s been driving into hurricane zones ever since. Sometimes he hauls supplies in. He always hauls dogs out.

“I love it,” Alsup said. “People don’t believe me, they say it’s got to be barking crazy. But no. They know I’m the Alpha dog and I’m not here to hurt them.”

Brett Kelman is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at 615-259-8287 or at brett.kelman@tennessean.com. Follow him on Twitter at @brettkelman. 

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