Into the Breach
The request arrived at the headquarters of the disaster response team at 3:18 p.m. on Monday afternoon.
Within an hour, Dr. Barry Kellogg, veterinarian and acting director of disaster services for The Humane Society of the United States, “pushed the button.” Local authorities in San Diego needed our help. Our professionals answered. They shouldered their packs and began the race westward and southward—trained people bringing trucks, portable clinics, equipment and a devotion to the task. Hundreds more trained disaster responders have been contacted, and they are standing at the ready if a second wave of personnel are needed.
Every second meant greater risk for animals in trouble.
© Eric Thayer/Getty Images
Horses stand in a pen on Oct. 23 as fire threatens
the Bonita neighborhood in San Diego.
Firestorms were advancing uncontrollably across great swaths of Southern California, displacing tens of thousands, and then hundreds of thousands of people and their pets—plus an unknown number of farm and wild animals. Although California is no stranger to the autumn cycle of Santa Ana winds and wildfires, this maelstrom stretching from the Mexico border north beyond Los Angeles was like none in memory.
Just slightly more than 12 hours later, the first disaster responders from The HSUS had traversed the continent or come down from our Sacramento office and began assembling in San Diego. They streamed into town by ones and twos all during the day. More arrived through the night, from all corners of the country. On highways from as far away as Florida, The HSUS big rigs rumbled toward California with essential tools and equipment for animal rescue.
By daybreak this morning, virtually our entire front-line disaster team was on station, sleeves rolled up. We also began accepting donations to support our response to the wildfires and future disasters.
You’ll understand my soaring pride in these staffers who give so much for the sake of animals.
Some of these disaster responders had returned just days earlier from another deployment to California—this one to help law enforcement in the largest cockfighting raid in U.S. history. Less than a week before that, we had a crew in Buxton, Maine, helping state officials transport 250 dogs out of the horrors of a puppy mill to a future that promised better lives. At that very same moment, I was in the Gulf Coast with other staffers to launch another phase of our long-standing program to help Louisiana and Mississippi rebuild their animal care facilities in the aftermath of an earlier disaster, Hurricane Katrina.
Friends, it’s been quite a couple of weeks in October.
I’ll have more to say later about people who give so much. But at the moment my mood is tempered. How many thousands of animals are displaced? Or suffering? What do the vagaries of the Santa Ana winds portend in the next 12, 24 and 48 hours? Will the weather tamp down the flames, or feed their fury?
Some areas hardest hit by these fires are home to families with horses. More than a few were unable to evacuate all their animals. I’m told that sometimes the best that people could do was open the gates and let their horses run free—to race ahead of towering flames in a sprint for their lives.
I’m glad we can be there to help. I’m so sorry that we have to. If you’re able to support our disaster and crisis response work with a special donation today, I and our skilled response teams would be grateful.