When the Volcán de Fuego erupted in Guatemala nearly two weeks ago, devastating villages for miles around, Humane Society International’s disaster response team took immediate action.
HSI has been helping animals affected by disasters for many years, and it’s one of the most crucial services the organization provides. Over the last decade and a half, among other situations, HSI has responded to an earthquake and a hurricane in Haiti, a tsunami and an earthquake in Japan, and, more recently, to earthquakes in Mexico. Each time HSI follows a clear strategy: getting to the disaster area, making assessments of the work needed, and uniting with local organizations to identify needs on the ground. In most cases, HSI doesn’t just help the animals in immediate need, but makes long-term commitments and investments to strengthen the animal welfare infrastructure in the affected regions.
In Guatemala, the animals in the areas most affected by Fuego’s eruption were in acute need of help. While some people had managed to save their animals before fleeing, many others did not have the means and/or the time to do so and had left the animals behind. Many of the animals had burn injuries or were suffering from breathing problems because of the ash and smoke in the air following the eruption.
The HSI team, including nine veterinarians and disaster responders from HSI/Mexico and HSI/Latin America, arrived in Guatemala on June 16. Over the course of a week, they provided emergency veterinary service to 912 animals, including dogs, cats, chickens, horses and other animals. They treated burn injuries, stitched wounds, and distributed lifesaving medication, surgical equipment and other supplies. They provided shelter and food for sick, injured, lost and abandoned animals in some of the worst affected communities, including Escuintla, Alotenango and Chimaltenango. HSI also provided veterinary medicines and donated supplies to the Animal Welfare Unit of the Guatemala Ministry of Agriculture, to provide veterinary services in the affected areas.
The team members found many animals starving or without shelter after their owners were injured or evacuated. The team also treated dozens of animals for minor injuries and distemper in the town of El Rodeo.
To find and help as many animals as possible, the veterinarians walked the devastated area around the volcano for six kilometers, looking for signs of life, and providing emergency care to animals they encountered. They kept at it despite challenging conditions: the team was periodically forced to evacuate the area due to the risk of landslides from the volcano.
Among the 912 animals the team treated was Canelo, a dog who had collapsed on the road and was in very bad condition. Canelo received treatment at HSI’s temporary clinic in Escuintla, and was taken by the HSI/Mexico team to Mexico where, after several days of care, he is now recovering. Then there was Philipe, a foal who was found close to the site of the eruption. Philipe had several ash burns on his legs and tail and his owner did not have any means to help him or even shelter him, because he had lost everything he owned. SABESA, a local horse welfare organization, and World Horse Welfare requested HSI’s help in treating Philipe’s wounds. HSI also donated medicines for the care of Philipe and other horses in the area. Philipe is now on his way to a full recovery.
In the days ahead, HSI’s country director in Guatemala will continue to respond the situation, and its continuing support will help provide care to animals it hopes are reunited with their owners.
Your generosity is the factor in helping HSI to care for as many animals as possible. We hope that you’ll consider pitching in for animals like Philipe and Canelo, and other animals affected by natural disasters.