Rescuing pets during hurricanes

Being proactive is the key. Preparing in advance for adverse climactic disasters in 2017 were well thought out in U.S. states and territories. Prior and during Harvey in Texas, Irma in Florida and the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico getting hit by Maria, the hard work of cat and dog rescuers have been underway for over five weeks, as of this posting.

Humane Society of the United States

Anticipating the deluge that this hurricane season was capable of, HSUS began coordinating flights for anticipated abandonment of pets. Relocations to shelters in locations north of the hurricane paths, hundreds of adoptable cats and dogs escaped injury and death due to this organization’s efficient and strategic efforts.

“I cannot remember a time where I have had to work back-to-back-to-back disasters like this,” says Wanda Merling, the deputy director of operations for the Humane Society’s Animal Cruelty, Rescue, and Response Team. “Today marks day 37 without a day off,” she added.

Adoptions & relocations are complicated . . .

Supply and demand during and after hurricanes are mismatched. On the one hand, shelters take on more cats and dogs they can normally accommodate.  On the other, people may have incurred excessive lost or damage to their own homes. In both cases, these potential pet owners are less likely to adopt.

So, during these types of emergencies, the logistics become more challenging. For Irma for instance, HSUS cleared out a shelter in South Carolina to use as a hub for animals rescued from Florida. This type of relocation [while needed] may accumulate an excessive number of dogs and cats in this state — which may cause delays in these pets finding their forever homes.

Don’t let history repeat itself . . .

Post-hurricane, after relocating the first wave of pets, the next priority is to seek out and accommodate the lost and abandoned. As with many hurricane affected areas, we need to learn from history. Hurricane Katrina’s wrath in 2005 provided lessons as to what not to do. Emergency shelters at the time turned away pets, in some cases forcing owners to abandon them.

In an Associated Press dispatch, evacuees that sought out the Superdome for shelter were in the thousands. Sadly in this chaos and based on 'in-the-moment decision-making,' pets were not allowed on the bus, and were left to fend for themselves.

Post-Katrina, Congress reacted to that error in judgement by passing the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act in 2006. This legislation now mandates that rescuers need to accommodate pets and service animals. This act help immensely. During Hurricane Harvey this year, the rescue team at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston indeed allowed pet owners to bring their pets.

“Of the many things people learned [from Katrina], number one is people don’t want to leave their pets. And if they do, it’s highly traumatic for the people and the pets. And they want them back,” says Colleen Learch, an advisor for the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation in Virginia, which accommodated animals from the recent hurricanes.

Puerto Rico and beyond . . .

Learch anticipates that with her foundation — which has also worked closely with Puerto Rican partners in the past — will be taking in animals for several months going forward.

After so many hurricanes back to back, there is one bit of good timing. Autumn is a very popular adoption season. Hopefully prospective pet owners will think twice about selecting a pedigree over  rescue dogs this year and next. What are your thoughts on this topic, readers?