Kenny Chesney has been a resident of the island of St. John, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands, for 17 years; the location has influenced not only his lifestyle but his music throughout that time. So when Hurricanes Irma and Maria made landfall in the islands earlier this year, it shook the country star deeply and left him wanting to do everything he could to help with relief efforts.
“I’d never seen anything so apocalyptic,” Chesney tells USA Today. “My home was gone — and it had been built really strong. I’d lived there for so long so to see it broken and bleeding, especially a place that was known for its beauty and charm, it was devastating. It had become a ghost of an island.”
When Chesney and his team rolled up their sleeves to help with cleaning up the mess left behind by the storms, his assistant, Jill Trummell, brought his attention to the pets that had been affected by the disaster. Chesney had recently lost his mixed-breed dog, Cookie, who lived through Hurricane Irma but died not long after, and he says that she became his inspiration for that endeavor.
“Once we got past the anxiety of getting water to people and taking care of their basic needs, Jill contacted Big Dog Ranch in Florida and Island Dog Rescue in St. John, St. Thomas and Vieques in Puerto Rico … Next thing you know, we’ve got three or four planes going down there to get these animals healthy and safe,” Chesney explains. Chesney also created his Love for Love City foundation in Cookie’s honor, and launched a volunteer program to treat and transport dogs on the islands.
Since mid-November, Chesney and his team have flown more than 250 animals to the United States. Some have been returned to their owners, while others were placed in shelters and put up for adoption. There is still much work to be done in St. John, but Chesney says it’s getting better all the time.
“First time I flew there after the hurricane, every tree was broken. It looked like it had been bombed. Then a couple of weeks ago I went back and noticed a little bit of greenery. It takes a while,” the artist shares. “There’s no blueprint for something like this. But I’m really proud to be a part of helping the animals. Without Cookie, it might not have happened.”
Donations are still being accepted at LoveForLoveCity.org for the continuing work.