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January 29, 2010

Help Over the Long Haul for Haiti

The HSUS’s primary mission has always been to help animals, but the value system that undergirds our work is more expansive. For us, those core values are responsibility, other-centeredness, and mercy, especially when it comes to the weak or vulnerable or less fortunate. Like every other person of conscience, we at The HSUS are heartsick about the human tragedy in Haiti. With several hundred thousand believed dead, and an estimated 3 million people left homeless, the Haitian earthquake crisis is only matched in impact, in recent memory, by the Indonesian tsunami. The world community has responded with remarkable charity, but despite those efforts, the situation remains desperate for the wounded and the needy.

Humane Society International responder Lloyd Brown holds a dog in Haiti
HSI
Responder Lloyd Brown holds a dog in Haiti.

In charting a course for helping animals in the midst of a crisis of this magnitude, we’ve been sensitive to the larger dynamic, but diligent in fulfilling our primary mission, especially knowing that so many others are focused on the human tragedy. Our trained responders found a pathway into Haiti as quickly as they could and fed the hungry and provided care to the distressed. We forged close working partnerships with local organizations attuned to the political, social, and practical realities of the situation. We mobilized veterinary response personnel, and created an internal working group at headquarters to support our work on the ground. We dispatched staff member Kelly Coladarci to the Dominican Republic to purchase equipment and supplies, and to clear the hurdles to getting them where we could put them into use.

Today, Dr. Rebecca Berg, who served the Humane Society International/Humane Society of the United States/Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association first phase response with great distinction, passes the baton to Dave Pauli, an able colleague who has participated in virtually every major disaster response deployment to help animals undertaken in the last two decades. Dave will lead the next stage of our work, extending our alliances with the Haiti-based Christian Veterinary Mission and the Dominican Republic-based Veterinary Care and Human Services, and exploring every useful avenue for cooperation with relief agencies, the government of Haiti, and the representatives of other nations responding to Haiti’s dire needs.

We have a unique capacity to be of assistance, because we have been training animal control officers, veterinary technicians, veterinarians, and others in humane capture and handling, vaccination, spaying and neutering, and related work for decades. Through HSI and HSVMA, we have been directly working to resolve animal overpopulation in less developed countries through our field services work and spaying and neutering clinics.

In Haiti, the Christian Veterinary Mission, working together with the Ministry of Agriculture, had been making real progress, with respect to large-scale vaccination of the island nation’s stray dog populations (including so-called “community dogs” who are localized and known by residents in discrete neighborhoods) and other animal health and welfare concerns. Many of Haiti’s animals—dogs, cats, working equines, and farm animals—having escaped the earthquake’s strike with their lives, now face a more serious challenge of surviving even as the human residents struggle to secure their most basic needs. With our local partners, and our colleagues in the Animal Relief Coalition for Haiti, we will continue to address short-term threats and to lay the foundation for a better future for Haiti’s animals.

One small bright spot on the Haiti front today is the arrival in Miami this afternoon of Dieter and Bella, two Katrina dogs who survived the earthquake but were forced to remain behind when their family had to evacuate. The two dogs will rejoin their excited family members this evening, and there’s no stronger example of our work to restore the human-animal bond. My thanks to HSI’s Kelly O’Meara, Arthur Benjamin of American Dog Rescue, and countless others who worked hard for this reunion to occur. The distressed family called The HSUS for help, and we were there to swing into action and reunite them with their beloved pets—as we are there for so many other animals.

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