During Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, it felt like The HSUS and other animal groups not only fought surging waters, rain, and wind, but we also had to fight some government agencies and key private agencies whose leaders just didn’t get it when it came to animal welfare. In the early stages of the response, some first responders had instructions not to take animals to safety, despite the pleadings of their caregivers. Human shelters, which filled up because of mandatory evacuation orders, excluded animals. That caused some people to refuse to leave their homes, because they wouldn’t abandon their best friends during a life-threatening crisis. The inattentiveness to the bond between animals and the people who care about them put everybody at risk, and it undermined and complicated the disaster response. It also meant that The HSUS and other animal protection groups had to mount the largest-ever pet rescue operation to find pets trapped in homes, especially in New Orleans, which would be shuttered to its residents for weeks because of the levee break and the massive flooding that followed.
A dozen years later, as we look upon the immense damage that Harvey has wrought in an area larger than the state of New Jersey – and with more than 14 trillion gallons of water swamping the region — it’s evident that there’s been a sea change in attitudes. The government and human-focused charities get it now, recognizing that for disaster response to work, they must take into account the animals and the human-animal bond. It’s the right thing to do for the animals, who shouldn’t drown or die from abandonment, thirst, or hunger. And it’s right for the people, who love their animals and consider them members of the family.
Now, as we turn on the television to get the latest images from the impacted area, we cheer for every high-water rescue. (Our team is on the ground, doing lifesaving work.) We are out to save our pets and horses, to help animal shelters and wildlife rehabilitation centers in the path of the storm, and to keep our communities whole. But we must also recognize the certainty of unseen tragedies. Drama often unfolds out of sight, and there is so much loss and suffering.
Today, our teams are doing rescue and response in Dickinson and League City, both in Galveston County. We’ve already been to Corpus Christi and Texas City.
We are also doing transport. We helped move animals from Corpus Christi in advance of the storm hitting. We are also moving animals from San Antonio, Houston, and New Orleans in order to make room in shelters for victims of the storm and its aftermath. Working with San Antonio Animal Care Services, Wings of Rescue and GreaterGood.org, we flew 53 animals to St. Hubert’s Humane Society in New Jersey yesterday. Today we are sending about the same number of animals to partners in Washington state. Later this week, we will send animals to Oregon. In the days ahead, we’ll be transporting larger numbers of animals to Oklahoma and to Virginia.
The damage estimate for Harvey is $160 billion – which would make it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, and equal to the combined total of Katrina and Sandy. The flooding has damaged so many homes, and that’s going to create a housing crisis for people. That means a similar crisis for animals.
All of that means we are focused both on short-term search-and-rescue needs and also on long-term needs of making the community whole again. Your generous support over the last few days has been extraordinary. We are especially grateful to the Alex & Elisabeth Lewyt Charitable Trust on Long Island, and to Doris Day and her Doris Day Animal Foundation for their generous support. If you’ve donated already, thank you. And if you can dig deeper to support this life-saving work, please donate to our Disaster Relief Fund so we can answer the call when disaster strikes, now and in the future.
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