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November 12, 2012

Sandy Underscores Importance of Disaster Planning

This weekend, HSUS staff members cared for nearly 500 animals at emergency shelters we're running in Monmouth and Ocean counties in New Jersey, and also in Nassau County, New York, where we’re partnering with local groups. The work underscores the physical destruction and ongoing social dislocation as well as the level of human and animal homelessness that remains in Sandy’s aftermath. As for the animals, it's not just dogs and cats, but also rabbits, hamsters, birds and other small animals who have, by one means or another, found their way into the arms and the care of our rescuers and shelter workers. 

270x240-dianne-dyck-credit-lisa-godfrey-for-hsus
Lisa Godfrey for The HSUS
Dianne Dyck of Sea Girt, N.J., reclaims her dog Pepe
from our temporary shelter in Ocean County.

NBC Nightly News ran a story last night about the joyful reunions we've been able to facilitate, in cooperation with our partnering organizations. The sheer joy of these reunions is something to behold, especially for the people who have lost so much. But these vignettes of joy don't nullify the larger drama of loss and heartbreak playing out in New York and New Jersey.

So many animals drowned as the water surged, or succumbed to the cold, as their caretakers fled and homes remained without power. The cold claimed one cockatiel in a home, our rescue team told me. His companion, a parrot who survived, has been distraught ever since. Our team is keeping a stuffed bird in a nearby cage, and that has calmed the parrot's nerves.

On Staten Island, we rescued and reunited Bear, Otis, and Salem with their families and are dispatching trained Pets for Life NYC volunteers to provide pet retention counseling and resources to help keep families together. But yesterday's front-page story in The New York Times about the plight of the people in Midland Beach has stayed with me — not just about the terrible loss of human and animal life and the obliteration of this community, but also because of the power of the human-animal bond. The story, by Kirk Semple and Joseph Goldstein, recounts that many people in this area, particularly the elderly and disabled, did not heed the evacuation order. They thought they could ride out the hurricane, or thought that they could not arrange transportation, or perhaps they didn't feel they had any safe place to stay. For some, it was clear they stayed behind because they simply didn't feel they could take their animals along and refused to abandon them.

A disabled man, Eugene Contrubis, perished in the storm, and so did his pet bird. Contrubis’s pit-bull type dog did survive. One family of four and their large dog were in distress during the night of the storm as firefighter Anthony Guida arrived. “We couldn’t get them in the boat with the dog,” Guida told the Times reporters. “They made a heart-wrenching decision to stay with the dog, and they gave us their children.” The parents survived, fortunately. The Times story did not report on the fate of the dog.

These cases, and so many others we've learned of firsthand in other parts of New York and in New Jersey, are reminders that we all must heed evacuation orders when a storm is bearing down on us. And take your animals. If you do not leave, you put your life in danger, and those of your animals. If you cannot handle the transport, call The HSUS or some other animal welfare authority to help. Please have a disaster plan in place and the supplies and transport carriers you need.

We're continuing our life-saving efforts in the stricken areas, and we'll be there to help local humane organizations get back on their feet. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is seeking $30 billion in federal disaster aid for New York, and I imagine that Gov. Chris Christie will seek an enormous sum for his state, too. These sums are just one indicator of the sheer devastation that this mammoth storm has wrought in the Northeast, and the problems it has caused for so many tens of thousands of people and the animals in their lives.

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