Saving Animals from Disaster

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Excerpt from RESCUED: Saving Animals from Disaster by Allen and Linda Anderson, New World Library, Copyright 2006. All rights reserved.

Chapter 12: The Volunteers Who Came to Help: What Were They Thinking?

What were they thinking?

     The people who volunteered after Hurricane Katrina were thinking that the animals needed them.

     While millions evacuated, animal lovers headed toward the ravaged, toxic Gulf Coast. Later they would remember that it felt as if they were answering an inner call. Many would say, “It was not a decision. I had to go. I couldn’t stand by and do nothing.”

     Some stayed for a week or two weeks. Some returned repeatedly as if addicted to the drug of selfless service. Some used up all of their vacation time. They lost or quit their jobs rather than leave fellow rescuers to battle on without them. They gave each other nicknames like Boston Bob or Possum Lady. They found like-minded people and formed friendships that will last a lifetime.

     When they least expected it, they were aided by corporate giants like Winn-Dixie, Wal-Mart, UPS, PETCO, PetSmart, Continental Airlines, and T. Boone Pickens. National Guard and Coast Guard personnel, police officers, and firefighters carried puppies to them or showed them where animals were trapped in flooded houses.

     Animal lovers toughed out Hurricane Rita and refused to abandon the thousands of animals who still needed them. They grew angry, cantankerous, and vocal. Most learned to work together with people who did not share their approaches and philosophies. Some became frustrated with the slowness of bureaucracies and splintered off to form their own organizations. Some broke laws and made up their own rules. Months later they still did not know the work others had done in different parts of Louisiana and Mississippi. They may never know the rewards and consequences of their actions for themselves and for other people and animals.

New Partnerships Formed

     In federal documents prior to Hurricane Katrina, evacuation and rescue planning referred to animals as “nuisances.” Animal evacuation plans, if there were any, fell under the jurisdiction of the state departments of agriculture and the state veterinarians’ offices, with little regard for pets as members of families and for the deeply felt warmth that exists between people and animals who share homes. No national regulations allowed for the significance of the human-animal bond. Those who went to help after Hurricane Katrina did not realize that senators, congressional representatives, and CDC, FEMA, and Homeland Security officials were trying to make disaster relief better and more humane for farm animals, wildlife, and pets.

     After Hurricane Katrina hundreds of state, city, and national organizations cooperated in unprecedented ways. Media coverage made stars out of animal control officers and independent rescuers. Television crews followed them around; filmmakers and photojournalists documented sanitized versions of their “adventures” in animal rescue.

     The staff of local and state animal shelters and veterinarian clinics set aside worries about their own families and their own destroyed homes to transport animals in their care and to set up makeshift triage centers. With cell phones and land lines gone, they had little communication from the outside world or with their loved ones. They hoped that others, elsewhere, were mobilizing help for them.

     Volunteers and animal organizations from the United States and Canada as well as visitors from other countries sweated together in 100-degree temperatures and 100 percent humidity. They waded through poisonous waters, leaped over barbed-wire fences to face the snarls of frightened dogs and the claws of terrified cats. They wore face masks, wader boots, and plastic gloves. They fended off mold, rot, sunburn, mosquitoes, snakes, and alligators. They endured the unforgettable stench of death and decay while crawling under houses, climbing onto rooftops, or stepping over deceased human and animal remains.

     They drove miles and miles trying to find addresses on streets with no signs. They spray-painted messages onto houses for other rescuers and pet owners to find. They rooted through mail looking for cell phone numbers to call. Most of them followed with military precision, the Incident Command System, the national structure that is part of NIMS (National Incident Management System) and provides an approved set of disaster response protocols.

What No One Else Would

     Volunteers scooped tons of poop and kitty litter. They hoisted twenty-five-pound bags of food and lugged thousands of gallons of bottled water, constantly reminding each other to stay hydrated. They vowed never to eat another granola bar or military ration meal again. The vegetarians and vegans among them used the meat from prepackaged meals to lure hungry dogs into crates.

     Animal lovers tried to call home when an occasional phone worked. They got busy and forgot to take prescription medications, yet everyday aches and pains disappeared. They felt adrenaline rushes and helpers’ highs. Sitting around late-night campfires, they wondered how they could return to mind-numbing day jobs and cluttered cubicles. Some resolved to find more meaningful work that would allow them to keep on saving animals.

     In the few hours they slept, many lay on cots in FEMA tents, on the concrete pavement of parking lots, or in the backseats of their cars and minivans. Many endured nightmares of images that had been seared indelibly into their minds. Some showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Some stayed longer than they were effective and had to be told by others to go home.

     Some volunteers took one look at the devastation and burst into tears. They immediately left, feeling horrified, saddened, and defeated and waited in deserted airports for the next flights out of stricken areas.

     What were they thinking?

     They were thinking that the animals and people needed to be together again.

Excerpt from RESCUED: Saving Animals from Disaster by Allen and Linda Anderson, New World Library, Copyright 2006. All rights reserved.

Chapter 18: Today’s Sanctuaries and Animal Shelters

Today’s Animal Shelters

     Today’s animal shelters and sanctuaries are not the dog pounds of the past. They are no longer dingy, sad courts of last resort for throwaway animals. Today’s animal shelters are vibrant organizations offering educational and recreational programs, people-friendly environments, and expertise that makes them vital members of their communities. In many areas they are private, nonprofit charities with hundreds of volunteers dedicated to the welfare of humans and animals.

     While the quality of care given by animal shelters across the country continues to increase, some trouble spots remain. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) explains on its website that shelters in America vary widely in their practices. “Some animal shelters are wonderful places; others are hideous dumps.” Some are funded by local groups, others by government agencies, some with tax dollars. “Sometimes tax money comes with a stipulation that some animals must be turned over to experimenters. Every effort should be made to eliminate this policy, which is known as “pound seizure,” the group explains.3

     Animal shelters located in less affluent areas face their own unique set of obstacles. Niki Dawson is the shelter manager for the Liberty Humane Society in Jersey City in an inner-city area. Her proudest achievement is helping indigent and needy people with the kind of proper food and care for their pets that they would not be able to afford with their own resources. Her shelter’s “Pet it, don’t sweat it” program does free neutering for dogs and low-cost spay-neuter for cats. The shelter works with human food banks and social service agencies to get pet supplies to people who need them and to counsel those who have problems with their pets. Niki says, “We don’t only help animals. We help people with animals.”


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