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January 25, 2010

Hurricane Katrina to Haiti: Dogs Survive Two Disasters

Since arriving in Haiti last Thursday evening, our veterinary response team continues to help animals affected by the earthquake, assessing animal needs and offering hands-on assistance. We’ve provided food for animals living in the streets, visited a local zoo to check on the welfare of the animals there, and conducted assessments of the situation with farm animals in areas outside of Port-au-Prince. We’ve also responded to doctors’ requests to help assess the humanitarian situation, and provided medical supplies to doctors working in Port-au-Prince. (You can follow along with our team’s latest efforts here.)

Humane Society International responder Dr. Rebecca Berg examines a horse in Haiti
Humane Society International
HSI responder Dr. Rebecca Berg in Haiti.

Perhaps because of its chronic poverty, Haiti does not have the level of pet-keeping seen in many other nations. We fortunately have not yet discovered or learned of large numbers of animals trapped in buildings and killed when these structures collapsed. The farm animals also seem to be in acceptable shape, and they, of course, are concentrated in the more rural areas, which were not at the epicenter of the earthquake. The stray population was substantial before the quake hit, and the health of these animals remains an ongoing concern. In the days ahead, we’ll be concentrating on providing feeding stations and water for the strays, and we’ll also work with government responders and humanitarian groups to handle situations properly when they come across animals in need or in distress. We were the first animal welfare organization to send a response team to Haiti, and we’re now assembling a second wave of veterinarians and disaster responders to make their way to the affected area. We plan on being deployed for weeks and to not divert our focus from this crisis.

Perhaps the most exciting news is also one of the most improbable and remarkable of stories.

A day after the earthquake struck we received an urgent plea for help from an American couple living in Port-au-Prince. They’d been forced to evacuate very quickly and were not able to bring along their two dogs. We explained that we were working to get responders into Haiti as soon as possible, and pledged that we would do everything we could to help once our team hit the ground.

Humane Society International responder Dr. Rebecca Berg with dogs Dieter and Bella in Haiti
Humane Society International
Dr. Berg with Dieter and Bella.

In talking further with the family, we discovered that they were the victims of two natural disasters, as were the dogs. The couple had lived in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and, when they returned home in the aftermath of the storm, found two dachshund mixes roaming the streets. They were moved to take the dogs in, and named them Bella and Dieter. These are the same two dogs who had to be left behind in Port-au-Prince.

Here’s the remarkable news: Our team has located the dogs. They are in good health and now in our safe keeping, having survived a Category 4 hurricane in 2005 and now a magnitude 7.0 earthquake in 2010. When we told the family that we had located the dogs, they were understandably overjoyed. With the help of our partnering organization, Veterinary Care and Human Services of the Dominican Republic, we’re transporting them to the Dominican Republic today. We intend to reunite them with their family as soon as possible.

It is remarkable that these dogs are on-the-ground survivors of the two biggest disasters in recent years in the western hemisphere. They are living embodiments of the principle that kindness and concerted action do make a real difference in the lives of vulnerable creatures. That’s one reason why we’ll continue to maintain boots on the ground in Haiti and to do all we can to help the animals and people of this stricken nation.

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