This post is going to mostly be about disaster rescue, but since much of the disasters we are facing are linked to the Global Climate change that we are in the middle of, it makes sense to talk about that a bit as well.
Katrina is a perfect example. Devastating, and expected to be just one of more to come. The cost to humans and animals is still accruing. The homes and lives lost, the companions separated from their humans, the numbers are outrageous.
But it isn’t just the dramatic storms that we need to keep an eye on. pattrice posted recently about drought and despair at Eastern Shore Sanctuary. The wells have been drying up along her street for a while now, and her number came up in the past week or so. They now have to bring water in to clean, to hydrate. The well is played out. I was out there on July 4, not even a month ago. It was lush and green, the duck ponds were filled, and we hadn’t been sure that our visit wouldn’t, again, be rained out. It is hard to imagine the changes that have happened in just a month. This is what really got to me:
While the dense wild greenery of parts of the foraging yards is still lush, the high-traffic areas that we reseeded this spring have withered and died. The character of the soil in those areas is changing in a way that I can feel when I walk over them but have a hard time finding ways to describe. It’s as if the ground is losing its elasticity and coherence, crumbling from hardpan into powdery dust.
It is scary as well, how quickly these things can come up on us. Of course it has been in the works for many years, perhaps decades. It is only now that it is hitting us. The sanctuary needs financial help now to dig a new well.
At AR07 I went to a talk on “Conducting Disaster Rescues (preparing and conducting effective animal rescues during national disasters)”, with Jane Garrison, Tim Gorski, and Brenda Shoss speaking.
Brenda is with Kinship Circle, which focuses a lot on letter writing campaigns to the media. They also have an extensive list of fact sheets, available in pdf format, which seemed pretty solid to me. They have action alerts you can sign up for to be notified of national and global disasters as well.
Jane’s talk is the one that sticks in my mind. When she began hearing of the number of animals stranded as their care givers were forced to leave them behind in the wake of Katrina, she contacted a friend in the area. Told that, with 30 people working rescue, they were set, and didn’t need anyone to assist them, she packed her car with traps and whatever else she thought would be useful, knowing that with the disaster they were facing 300 people wouldn’t be enough, and set off to New Orleans.
It was even worse than she expected when she got there. She did an interview with Satya in November 2005, just a couple months after Katrina, which tells much of this story. The key, she said, is to question whether what is being done is the best thing for the animals. The official rescue group in New Orleans kept turning people away, even as they desperately needed help. Jane didn’t let it stop her.
Most of her initial work was done with HSUS, but they were only allowed to help until a certain time. When they were told to pack it up and leave, Jane knew too much needed to be done, and started a local group to stay and continue the work. Animal Rescue New Orleans was born, and exists today as a grassroots organization, run by residents of New Orleans committed to working for the Katrina victims who are still in need of care today, two years after the hurricane.
Very early in the rescue effort, Jane realized that the animals living on the streets needed as much assistance as the animals trapped in homes. She began organizing food and water stations, and that remains the basis of ARNO today. At one point they had 4,000 stations, but with residents slowly trickling back into the city, they need only 2,000 today. TNR has always been a big part of New Orleans animal advocacy, and is also part of ARNO’s effort. Even rescues are still happening, though of course they become increasingly difficult as the animals remaining on the streets are ever more wary of humans.
The numbers are staggering. An estimated 104,000 companion animals were stranded in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. 15,000 were officially saved. 3,000 are known to have been reunited. 90,000 remain unaccounted for in New Orleans alone. It is believed that 40,000 cats and 5,000 dogs are still living on the streets in New Orleans. The importance of the food and water stations is clear.
Tim Gorski, of Rattle The Cage Productions, had just come back from rescue efforts in Thailand from the tsunami disaster, when Katrina struck. He’d been home in Florida for about a week. Once they’d helped the rescue and clean up operations in their home town, they headed to New Orleans to assist in the rescue there.
Their stories are astounding. It sometimes took half a day to find a house that had floated down the street from where they expected to find it. Street signs were often missing. When they found the houses where people reported that they’d left animals, walls would sometimes need to be broken down to reach the animals.
Tim had a lot of great advice for disaster rescues in general.
- Don’t become a victim (don’t get injured, don’t get bitten)
- Expect the unexpected
- Communication always fails
- Plans always fail but are essential nonetheless
He also had some great tips for basic set up of the rescue camps, tools to bring, advice on capturing the animals, and what to expect. He strongly advocated getting training through EARS, DART and possibly FEMA (online courses) before taking part in disaster rescues. This is something I think we should all do sooner than later, because we never know what will happen when or where.
Another point that all three brought up was that while legislation passed (PETS act) ensuring that companions would be included in disaster plans, it is essentially what is known as a “paper bill” until funding is allocated to actually get places prepared to handle pets as well as people. We should be writing to our reps to encourage them to fund this act, though hopefully we also learned that we shouldn’t necessarily depend on the government to act in a timely enough manner to save lives. Many states have their own plans and anyone living in a state which isn’t at least writing a plan should be contacting their reps to encourage the writing of a plan.
Maybe we can’t prevent disasters from happening, but we can certainly do our best to be prepared for them.