Photo by Tony Alsup

While turmoil rages on daily in America, it’s always a relief to be reminded of the good people who make this crazy experiment called the United States of America such an incredible nation. The metaphorical tempests of Capitol Hill have been consuming our news cycle and mental capacity, but the literal storm that has battered the coasts of the Carolinas have left thousands of people – and animals – displaced and needy.

The Washington Post caught up with one man who didn’t hesitate to do his part for some of the most vulnerable victims of Hurricane Florence (recently downgraded to a tropical depression) – pets.

The Post caught up with Tony Alsup, a 51-year-old trucker from Tennessee as he paused for a quick meal at a Waffle House just outside of Fayetteville, North Carolina. Alsup had driven his school bus from his home in Greenback, TN specifically to rescue pets and animals left at shelters while caretakers tried to escape the storms.

Inside the bus, the seats have been ripped out to make room for its passengers. On the bus’s side are the words “EMERGENCY ANIMAL RESCUE SHELTER.” But it could have said “Noah’s Ark.”

In the last week, Alsup and his bus have rescued 53 dogs and 11 cats from South Carolina shelters that were in Florence’s treacherous path, as first reported by the Greenville News.

And come morning, Alsup expects to search for more.

“I’m like, look, these are lives too,” Alsup told The Washington Post during his Waffle House stop. “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.”

Alsup has been rescuing animals caught by the rage of Mother Nature since Hurricane Harvey, when he set out to with his school bus with the intention of saving as many pets as he could. He bought the school bus he uses with his own money and has since helped with animal rescues during Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.

Last Monday, when Alsup began his latest rescues, the kennels in his vehicle were stacked from floor to ceiling. Pet food, water bowls, leashes and toys were strewn about the aisle. But as he rolled along his route, Alsup kept telling his Facebook followers that he had room for more, asking them to point him to where pets needed help. “NO ONE LEFT BEHIND,” he wrote in one Facebook post, before signing off with his standard line, “Love y’all, mean it.”

In less than 48 hours, he stopped at the Humane Society of North Myrtle Beach (S.C.), the Dillon County (S.C.) Animal Shelter, another in Orangeburg, S.C., and Saint Frances Animal Center in Georgetown, S.C., which sang his praises on social media Sunday. In a Facebook post late Sunday, the Saint Frances Animal Center said that Alsup was rescuing all the “leftover” pets — the dogs and cats the shelter couldn’t seem to hand off to anyone else.

“It’s all true. Tony swooped in at 4am Wednesday morning to pick up our ‘leftovers’ — the dogs with blocky heads, the ones with heartworm,” the center wrote on Facebook. “The ones no one else will ever take. And he got them to safety. Not the most conventional evacuation, but surely the one with the most heart.”

Alsup has been transporting the animals to Alabama where his friend Angela takes them into her privately run shelter.

She gave them baths and fluffy blankets and “spa treatment,” Alsup said, until they could find enough shelters or foster homes for the animals.

They managed to do it in a matter of a day. “We just burned up the airwaves,” Alsup said.

Some people came to adopt some of the dogs and cats on the spot, while Alsup coordinated with other animal shelters or volunteers to meet him in Knoxville, Tenn., where he would hand off about 40 others. From there, Alsup said the remaining dogs and cats went off to vacant shelters across the country.

After refueling at the Waffle House, Alsup said he would try to head out to Wilmington, despite reports that many of the roads in were impassable. Nevertheless, he’d heard there were shelters who needed his service so he was going to try.

Why is it that the greatest of heroes always end up at Waffle House?