Yesterday, I joined our Animal Rescue Team on the ground in New Jersey, trying to provide relief to people and animals in one area within the larger Hurricane Sandy impact zone. The disaster team I connected with is stationed in Monmouth County, with its coastal towns sitting just across the bay from Staten Island. Sandy hit the most densely populated city in America, New York, and also the most densely populated state of New Jersey.
At Monmouth County Emergency Operations Center, where we started the morning, one law enforcement official told us he hoped we’d go to Union Beach — a small coastal community he called “ground zero” — because there were so many cats running around. We arranged for Hetti Brown, Delaware state director for The HSUS, to partner with a great group called Fins and Feathers to remove a 5-foot pet iguana from an abandoned home, and then our team headed to Union Beach. As we got closer to the beach front, we passed the police checkpoints and saw homes moved far off their foundation, parts of homes completely gone, cars piled under debris, and mounds of furniture, TVs, appliances, and other household items on front lawns and sidewalks. Fast-rushing water, several feet high, leveled this community, and while a few homes were spared, most were totaled.
Lisa Godfrey for The HSUS
We reunited this lost cat with her grateful family.
It didn’t take us long to find one kitty hiding under a wood pile. We started knocking on doors, flashing her picture on our iPhones, and before long, we had a hit. We reunited the beautiful, blue-eyed Siamese cat with her human parents. A good start.
Our team leader, Jennifer Kulina-Lanese, said we had a dispatch call a few blocks away, and we decided to act on that call and resume our cat search later. As we drove through stricken neighborhoods, I was taken by the scale of the devastation and distressed by the sight of so many people picking through their life possessions. As we arrived at the address in question, I heard an officer ahead of me say, “We have a bad situation.” I refocused quickly and came upon a horribly sad sight.
Barely standing and visibly shaking before me was an older, emaciated dog covered in bald patches, likely the result of a terrible case of scabies. His elderly owners had been taken to a hospital and had left their animals behind. This one dog, who neighbors told me was named Stormy, was tethered to a leash wound around what was left of the front gate. He could barely move and was standing in feces and urine. I unhitched the leash and asked my teammates to get some fresh water. I put the bowl in front of him. He couldn’t lap up the water fast enough. He did the same with a bowl of food, which we placed in a crate, to lure him in. He’d need veterinary attention very soon, but first we had to see who else was inside.
As I walked in, it was obvious there were big problems here before Sandy ever hit. The home was uninhabitable, with feces all over the soaked carpets and bare floors. We moved toward the back of the small, single-level home and put on our face masks because the stench was almost unbearable — making us look even more alien to the smallish feral cats staring back at us from what they thought were safe perches. The cats put on a display of acrobatics to avoid capture, but Jennifer and my fiancée and I scooped all of them up, and loaded them on a truck to deliver them to one veterinary clinic and Stormy to a separate one, as other members of our team readied to open an HSUS emergency shelter in Belmar.
A colleague e-mailed me later in the day, and said that the house had been condemned, and was going to be bulldozed. We had gotten the five animals out just in time.
Throughout the remainder of the day, we responded to more calls, provided food for strays, and talked to residents. I met the mayor of Belmar and took a look at the emergency shelter The HSUS set up for animals in need in Monmouth County. Our shelter in Ocean County should be operational soon. And we’re also running a shelter in Nassau County, on Long Island.
Our rescue teams are on the ground, and they are doing lifesaving work. Because the needs are so great, we need your help to sustain these operations. We will be doing search and rescue for as long as it takes, but the sheltering is bound to continue for many weeks to come, given the enormous number of people and animals made homeless by the storm. As the temperature falls and a nor’easter approaches, there are many challenges in the days ahead for us.
You can find the latest news about our Hurricane Sandy deployment on our Twitter feed, and I hope you’ll help support our disaster relief efforts. Or you can donate $10 to our Disaster Relief Fund by texting ANIMALS to 20222 (message and data rates apply).