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August 29, 2011

From North to South, Answering the Call for Animals

Irene was a big storm, but it was no Katrina. That assessment is based on more than wind gusts and wave action alone. It also reflects our nation’s preparedness efforts for this hurricane. Now six years to the day that Katrina made landfall, it’s obvious in the immediate wake of Irene that our nation learned many of the lessons of 2005. We were better prepared, we set up evacuation centers that took in people and their pets, and we had developed disaster response plans that accounted for the presence of animals in our lives and in our communities. Even if Irene had been as strong as Katrina, I am sure we would have fared much better than we did six years ago.

In North Carolina, our Animal Rescue Team was caring for rescued pit bulls confiscated from two fighting operations we busted with local law enforcement earlier in the month. Our team members hunkered down right near the heart of the storm in Craven County, N.C., bunking on cots at our emergency shelter and keeping watch over the dogs and puppies through the heavy rains and winds. “Our rescue staff realized that if these dogs had not been rescued, they would have likely drowned at the end of their chains,” said Ann Chynoweth, senior director of the HSUS Animal Rescue Team.

Rescued dog Hazel rests at an HSUS shelter preparing for Hurricane Irene
The HSUS
Rescued pit bull Hazel resting at our emergency shelter.

On Sunday, HSUS staff teamed up with Pamlico County, N.C. law enforcement to assess the needs of other animals in the area. Floodwaters exceeded 10 feet in some places, and thousands of people lost their homes. We saw boats in front yards, crushed cars, downed trees, and debris all over. We saw animals left behind, including a horse walking down the road. Luckily, we were able to capture the horse and find out where he lived. We also found a frightened dog stuck on top of debris and carried him to safety.

Animal Control has received numerous requests to check on or pick up animals within the county, so we will be helping them with these efforts this week. We’re setting up an HSUS emergency animal shelter at the fairgrounds in Craven County, where we will provide care for lost pets and foster the animals of local emergency responders who are busy helping people in the communities. We will also have a toll-free phone number for North Carolina residents to send reports of animals in need to our HSUS teams on the ground. Many residents we spoke to were only returning to gather things that they could salvage from their homes. Power is expected to take more than a month to restore, and there is no running water.

Up in New England, we were also prepared at our own Cape Wildlife Center, operated by The HSUS and The Fund for Animals. “Our emergency management plans enabled us to continue operations without missing a beat,” said Cape Wildlife Center director Theresa Barbo. Although high winds knocked out power in our part of the Cape, the center put its emergency generator to work and all of the animals made it through just fine. In fact, just as power went down, the center took in its first Irene victims—young gray and red squirrels blown out of their nests.

Baby squirrels at the Cape Wildlife Center during Hurricane Irene
Heather Fone/The HSUS
Baby squirrels at our Cape Wildlife Center.

With The HSUS doing so much hands-on work this weekend, I could not help but think of our critics who say we should do more hands-on work and less in the way of policy and education, as if animal-abuse industries and their public relations flacks were experts at doing animal protection work, or actually doing anything of that kind themselves. I just wish they could have read the internal email traffic I received from colleagues all over the East Coast this weekend–whether they were caring for animals at our wildlife center in Massachusetts, for dogs at our emergency pet shelter in North Carolina, or for cats at our adoption event in Florida.

In Gainesville, several of our team members spent the weekend finding new homes for hundreds of cats we rescued from a hoarding case in June. More than 250 cats went home with their new families in a single weekend after a massive adoption event. The animals have been recuperating and receiving necessary vet care at our emergency shelter for nearly three months.

We joined with the Alachua County Humane Society, Alachua County Animal Services, PetSmart Charities, The Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida, and All Cats Health Care Clinic for this event. We’ll continue to care for the other cats who weren’t adopted this weekend and work with shelters to find placement for them. You can support the work of our Animal Rescue Team here to help these and other pets in need.

P.S. We are providing up-to-the-minute information and assistance for pet owners affected by Hurricane Irene on our Twitter page. Even if you're not on Twitter, you can still get all the info here: http://www.twitter.com/humanesociety.

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