Every day, Humane Society International battles incredible odds to help and rescue animals in difficult and perilous situations, in countries scattered around the globe. The organization’s expertise and dedication is in evidence many times each year, whether they are responding within hours to a flood in India or executing a well-planned rescue of dogs from a meat farm in Korea. Today, on the blog, I’ve invited Adam Parascandola, senior director of animal protection and crisis response at HSI, to tell us about some of the work he and his team do year-round to bring hope and relief to animals across the world.
As leader of the Humane Society International’s animal rescue efforts, I have the privilege of working with experts who brave natural and man-made disasters around the world to help thousands of people and animals each year. This year alone, we waded through floodwaters and rowed inflatable rafts for long distances, braved volcanic ash and burning ground, and faced the horrendous suffering and terror of the dog and cat meat trade. I wish I could introduce you to them all here because the dedication and perseverance with which they face every obstacle speaks to the commitment and effectiveness HSI brings to our response work.
When the south Indian state of Kerala and neighboring states were hit by historic flooding this year, our teams were the first on the ground. They worked tirelessly, rescuing 1,200 animals and reuniting many grateful families with their beloved pets. In one instance, we were contacted by Sunitha, a woman who had been rescuing dogs for years and cared for 25 of them. The flood waters were rising but she refused to evacuate without her dogs and no rescue boats would take them. HSI quickly arranged housing and transport to get them all to safety.
In Guatemala this year, when the Fuego volcano erupted, the government requested our assistance to help with animals remaining in the evacuation zone. A team of veterinarians and support staff was dispatched to the area, which was choked with ash. In places the ground was still burning. They were able to assist and treat nearly 1,000 animals who were suffering from dehydration and burns and had no access to food. The team then worked with the government to create a plan to continue care of the animals until residents were allowed to return.
To promote a culture of prevention, we also helped organize the first earthquake drill with companion animals in Mexico City, in which more than 100 people participated with their pets Last year, we provided emergency veterinary care to more than 6,000 animals across Mexico in the aftermath of two deadly earthquakes.
When HSI responds to disasters we not only save the lives of animals who are immediately affected, but we also work to change the lives of animals in the future. In many of the countries in which we respond, animals are not generally considered in disaster planning. Yet everywhere in the world there are people who have animals as part of their family, which means that in every disaster there are people who choose not to evacuate without their animals or are heartbroken when forced to leave them behind. Governments of these affected areas recognize our expertise and our work and ask us to help them plan for animals in future disasters.
One of our campaigns that gets the most global attention involves the dog meat trade in parts of Asia. This year, we helped to close three dog meat farms in South Korea, rescuing nearly 350 dogs from a horrendous fate at the hands of the dog meat industry. Another 35 dogs were saved from a similar fate in India where the dogs were found being smuggled in sacks with their mouths tied shut. The team not only removed these animals, but provided veterinary and behavioral care to the dogs to prepare for their new lives in loving homes at our temporary shelters in Canada and India. Over the last two weeks, dogs we rescued from the 13th dog meat farm we closed in South Korea arrived at shelters in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands where they will be prepared for adoption.
We also work to remove animals trapped in circumstances from which there is typically no escape. Last month, we confronted a terrible cruelty situation in Aguascalientes, Mexico. We removed over 70 animals from the property and they are now on the road to recovery with one of our partner groups there.
The work we do is often difficult, exhausting and heartbreaking, but we do it because we know that we are often the last hope for these animals and we take heart in seeing them reunited with their owners after a disaster or discovering the joys of simple pleasures such as grass under their feet, a soft bed and toys to play with.
The animals we rescue never fail to impress and surprise us. Whether they are victims of terrific cruelty in the dog meat trade, dog fighting operations or hoarding situations, they show incredible resiliency. Their ability to overcome their circumstances and learn to trust humans again speaks not only to their special nature but to the depth of the bond humans and animals share.
My own dog, Ruby, was rescued from a dog meat farm in South Korea. Ruby was terrified of everything when I brought her home. Having spent her entire life in a tiny cage she was completely overwhelmed by the wide openness of the world and, at first, hid under the furniture. Today, to see her in our home, you would never guess she came from such cruel beginnings. She loves to play, trusts us completely, and is a fun and mischievous addition to our family. She reminds me every day why we work through these difficult conditions and confront heartbreaking sights, through holidays and weekends and extreme cold and heat — so we can bring this kind of future to every animal we encounter.
P.S. The HSUS Animal Rescue Team is still on the ground in Butte County, California, more than a month after the most devastating fire in the state began raging through communities. Residents are still finding their animals every day, and we continue to offer safe haven at our temporary shelter. With almost 50 animals from our shelter already reunited with their people, we are looking forward to more homecomings before the holidays.