I’ve written much in the past six weeks about the disasters in Texas, Florida, and then Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands. We’ve turned The HSUS and Humane Society International upside down during these harrowing times to help animals and people in need, and we are still flying out planeloads of animals every week from Puerto Rico to the mainland, to give homeless or distressed animals a second chance. Our medical and field services teams are providing on-the-ground care to animals, and we’ve been distributing supplies to people and animals who desperately need our support. We are not only filling this short-term need but we are also laying the groundwork for long-term plans to lift the circumstances of the animals in Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, we are still actively serving thousands of animals in lower-income communities in Texas through our ongoing relationship with Emancipet, and we are planning on rebuilding the capacity to care for animals in the British Virgin Islands.
But I haven’t written much about our work in Mexico and Costa Rica, which also absorbed devastating blows from natural disasters, and it’s important you know that HSI has offices in these two countries and has been at work there in very intense and high-impact ways. Since two devastating earthquakes rattled Mexico in September, our HSI team has helped nearly 6,300 animals in the country, working with Ayudemos a México (Let’s Help Mexico), a cluster of local animal protection organizations who helped collect food and veterinary supplies. In terms of the number of animals saved, this is perhaps one of the largest such operations ever conducted by HSI.
Veterinary and volunteer teams from HSI/Mexico fanned out to the five states affected by the quakes with the goal of bringing help to as many animals as possible. During our deployment in Oaxaca after the first earthquake, the team helped 1,350 animals in the town of Juchitan. When the second quake hit, the team rushed back to Mexico City to organize the second stage of our response. Besides Oaxaca and Mexico City, where we were operating emergency clinics and helped more than 1,300 animals, we also deployed to Puebla, Chiapas, and Morelos, all states that had been severely impacted by the disaster.
Our HSI/Mexico team assessed the situation on the ground, striking up alliances with local and international animal protection organizations, governments, volunteers, and veterinary schools, in order to get help to the animals as quickly as possible. The state of Puebla, being close to the epicenter, sustained serious damage, and we brought help to 147 animals there. In the state of Morelos, south of Mexico City, we came to the aid of 805 animals in the municipality of Jojutla, which saw some of the most extensive damage. In Chiapas, a poor, southern state that borders Guatemala, we were supported by dozens of volunteer veterinarians and students from the Chiapas Veterinary College. In just over a week’s time we had managed to help 2,645 animals there. We faced dire transportation challenges, with roads blocked or destroyed, but we saw immense enthusiasm and resolve among residents, who wanted to get help for their animals.
Our HSI/Mexico Director, Anton Aguilar, told me that the people near our office, in the area of Colonia Conesa in Mexico City, fled their homes when the quakes hit, but almost always with their animals. Even in a desperate moment – a true life-or-death circumstance – people kept their animals top of mind, and made heroic efforts to get them out of buildings that might crumble.
Websites popped up to report lost and found pets, the cities’ shelters included pets, and there was a broad focus on making sure that people could access information to reunite with their pets.
Meanwhile, our HSI/Latin America team is in Costa Rica, conducting animal rescue and relief efforts in hard-hit, difficult-to-reach areas since Tropical Storm Nate left thousands of animals lost, injured, and urgently in need of care. SENASA, the department of animal health in Costa Rica, estimates that Tropical Storm Nate has caused the deaths of at least 32,000 animals and displaced approximately 5,000 more.
Our team provided emergency medical supplies, including kennels, folding tables, gloves, cleaning supplies, and medical kits, and, in partnership with government agencies, treated more than 500 animals. We have been particularly focused on bringing relief to animals in rural communities that were cut off and lacked supplies of water and electricity due to the storm.
Never has the western hemisphere seen such a cluster of diverse disasters – floods, fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes – affecting vast regions with tens of millions of people and countless animals. We’ve done our best to respond as diligently as we can. We are grateful for the support the public has provided, and we’re grateful for the other animal protection groups and regular citizens who’ve done lifesaving work on the ground with us or in places where we haven’t been able to respond. It’s our aim to be a safety net when natural disasters strike.