Lending a Helping Hand in Haiti
The images in the aftermath of a cataclysmic disaster like the one that struck Haiti last week are jarring, causing despair for even those somewhat hardened to suffering in the world. But there’s another side to the human psyche. Even in the worst of times, we search out for rays of light that break through the darkest clouds—in this case, stories of selflessness, survival, and even hopefulness that the long-term situation will improve. Even though we’ve witnessed major logistical hurdles that have impeded delivery of services to those in the greatest distress, let’s remind ourselves about the remarkable outpouring of action and concern by people and governments throughout the world for the people of Haiti. There is something remarkable in the generosity of the human spirit.
Now that the search for bodies in the rubble has essentially ended, it is fitting and appropriate to commence the deployment to help the animals in need. Today, a veterinary response team from Humane Society International (HSI) is in Haiti, traveling to Port-au-Prince with a full trailer load of veterinary supplies. The team includes a veterinarian, two veterinary technicians, an expert animal handler and paramedic, and a DR military escort for security. They’ll treat what animals they can, gather information on the plight of animals, coordinate with relief agencies, and lay the foundation for putting more assets into place, on the ground, where it counts.
The barriers to deployment in Haiti were substantial, and getting reliable information about the situation for animals has been extraordinarily difficult, and that has made an already complex mission still more challenging. But now, with a strong assessment team on the ground, as well as other help on the way from a number of other organizations, including Veterinary Care and Human Services of the Dominican Republic and the groups working under the banner of Animal Relief Coalition for Haiti, we can do some good for the animals. And that’s the right and merciful thing. Through HSUS, HSI, and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, we’ve put together the resources to have a sustained impact.
Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. And when it comes to animals, like other poor nations, Haiti has lacked the most basic elements of a humane infrastructure. It has no humane society or veterinary school, and it has lacked the resources to provide training in the humane handling and care of animals through its educational and agricultural institutions.
That doesn’t mean that people in Haiti don’t care about animals, however, and I’m certain that our team will find citizens doing their best to provide care for animals in a dire situation, and grateful for the service and resources we can provide. We expect to find dogs, cats, chickens, goats, pigs, and other domestic animals in need, and we’ll do our best to support those who are trying to help them.
In prior instances of our disaster response, domestic or international, we’ve seen the recovery efforts eventually morph into longer-range infrastructure building for animals. That happened in Banda Aceh, after the tsunami struck there four years ago. I hope that the humane organizations that deploy to Haiti can begin to build capacity to promote spaying and neutering programs, vaccinations, animal handling training, construction of clinics, shelters, and emergency facilities, and even the building of a veterinary teaching facility.
The task now is to help those in crisis, and we should be careful about looking too far ahead. But it is not too early to envision a better day for Haiti, a day where the basic needs of people and animals are met.
A mere 700 miles from our shores, Haiti seems a world away. The animals suffer there just like everywhere else, and it is our duty to help.