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He promised to protect their dogs during Hurricane Michael. Then the walls collapsed

David Ovalle, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

PANAMA CITY, Fla. -- For six years, Charles Burgess ran Pawaday Inn, building up a loyal customer base that brought him their beloved dogs and cats for grooming and boarding.

As Hurricane Michael approached, customers entrusted Burgess to care for their pets as they left town.

So Burgess holed up with 12 dogs, two cats and several employees in the squat concrete building building on East Sixth Street, figuring it was strong enough to endure whatever was coming. But Michael, whipping to the top of the Category 4 scale just before landfall near the Panhandle city, proved too powerful.

As the winds howled, much of the building collapsed around them. Burgess and his employees whisked the dogs into a small, stronger inner room holding the wash tub for dogs. Two of the animals escaped as sheets of driving rain lashed the building.

"We thought the building would hold up but it didn't," Burgess said. "The roof caved in. Then, the walls caved in."

After mid-afternoon, as Michael moved deeper into the state and the sun peeked out from behind gray clouds, Burgess and his workers picked their way out of the tangle of concrete blocks, air-conditioning ducts and foam insulation. The remaining dogs barked in their cages, sopping wet but wagging their tails.

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They were loaded into trucks and vans to head to Burgess' home but the rescue effort wasn't done.

"We got to go find the two that ran off," Burgess said.

"We got one," one of his employees said.

Then another employee, Brian Bon, emerged from behind the shattered building with a leashed bull terrier.

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