The unusually fierce snowstorm that buried the mid-Atlantic states and disrupted transportation and work for so many people also wreaked havoc for animals. Wild animals are built to withstand bouts of severe weather, but they struggle to survive when temperatures and precipitation levels get extreme (there are news reports this month that more than a thousand turtles in North Carolina have been hurt by cold-stun, an occasionally fatal condition brought on by a rapid drop in water temperature). Domesticated animals are even more vulnerable, including cats living outside all the time or dogs living outside in a doghouse or on a tether.
At a time when Old Man Winter delivers a tough blow, there’s no substitute for responsible pet care; in addition to providing food and water, that means, at the very least, adequate shelter. Just during this snowstorm, animal control officers received an onslaught of calls about animals left out in the cold. In New Jersey, a few days before the blizzard hit, a puppy was found frozen, and the mother dog, also left outside, later passed away despite efforts of Atlantic City Humane Officers and the veterinarian to try to save her.
The HSUS Animal Rescue Team works with local agencies to deliver animals from terrible circumstances. That team principally focuses on large-scale problems for animals, such as hoarding cases, major incidents of cruelty, dogfighting, puppy mill operations, and natural disasters. But we also work side by side with our Emergency Placement Partners (EPPs) on the steps that follow the rescue: sheltering, medical care and rehabilitation, and then permanent placement.
We’ve had a number of recent cases, and that means we have a lot of animals under our care. This past weekend, many staff members at the EPPs camped out in shelters overnight so the animals wouldn’t be afraid as the winds howled and the snow piled high outside. They dug paths in the snow, which was as deep as three feet in some areas, to ensure dogs and, in some cases, horses and farm animals in their care, had access to the outdoors. They made sure the animals all had extra bedding to keep them warm in the extreme cold temperatures. And so the animals wouldn’t get bored, they brought toys to keep them busy.
“It was heartening to see how deeply the staff at the EPPs care about the animals, some of whom have already been through immense suffering before they arrived at the shelter. The staff made sure all of the animals’ needs were met, and they felt safe and secure during the storm,” said Kim Alboum, director of the HSUS Emergency Placement Partner Program, who reached out to the EPPs during the storm along with Wanda Merling, senior manager of disaster response.
There are now 270 shelters and rescue groups located around the country in our Emergency Placement Partner program. They not only help us when we deal with large-scale animal crises, but they are doing other life-saving work in their communities:
- Capital Area Humane Society in Columbus, Ohio, has started the Safe Haven Program to provide a shelter for pets coming out of domestic violence situations. .
- SPCA of Ann Arundel County in Maryland, has created a food bank to keep pets and their people together during tough times.
- Monmouth County SPCA in New Jersey has a chaplain for bereavement counseling and community members can call in with concerns about seriously ill or aging pets, euthanasia decisions, or grief over the death of a pet.
Some EPPs, like Angels of Assisi in Roanoke, Virginia, and Cashiers-Highlands Humane Society in Sapphire, North Carolina, are working in rural communities to provide support to animal shelters as well as to the animals of citizens who might find it hard to access veterinary care.
As we continue to dig ourselves out of the snow, I want to applaud our EPPs for their wonderful work during this snowstorm and for the work they do year-round. Especially at times when they are needed the most, they are there.
P.S We’re always looking for more shelters and rescues to join our Emergency Placement Partner Program. If you know of an organization interested in joining, they can apply here.