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September 6, 2005 > In the aftermath of Katrina... what of the animal victims?

In the aftermath of Katrina... what of the animal victims?

by Nancy Lyon

Several years ago I took part in an Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) disaster preparedness workshop run by founder Teri Crisp who presently heads up Noah's Wish. The participants were an interesting array of individuals that included paramedics, horse rescuers, humane society and animal control workers, and vet techs to name but a few. All were vitally interested in learning to save animals in harm's way when Mother Nature's fury asserts itself.

Expecting a long introduction into the fine art of animal disaster response, it came as a surprise that we were quickly divided up into four groups, each presented with a different disaster scenario. We were given a basic overview of the situation and asked to problem solve. This was triage in its truest sense--we were people from diverse backgrounds, each bringing our experience to solve the problem. It was an amazing and creative group effort to save future animal lives. Many of these are the same people who are risking their safety at this very moment for the animal victims of Hurricane Katrina.

According to the American Humane Association, "Hurricane Katrina is now being heralded as the single largest natural disaster ever to befall the United States. An estimated four million people are now without power, many fatalities are being reported, and many more hundreds of survivors are stranded in rising flood waters in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The remnants of Katrina have moved into the Northeast, bringing heavy rainfall, thunderstorms and the threat of tornadoes. Human relief assistance crews that are staging around the country are having a difficult time getting to the area. "

As the human death toll grows into the thousands from the devastating impact of Katrina and human rescue efforts tirelessly continue, the welfare of the region's animals has not been forgotten. Compassion for the stranded and starving animals left to fend for themselves has become the focus of a large nationwide coalition of individuals and animal organizations trained to respond to disasters.

In an event such as this, the first few days entail gathering a great deal of vital information, an important step before starting to work. While this may delay the work that animal rescuers have come do, it prevents them from adding to the existing confusion. Calls start coming in almost immediately to animal disaster relief centers from anxious people seeking information on their animals, and a serious effort is made to ensure that correct information is passed along to the families.

With normal communications disrupted, the beginning stages of trying to help are challenging. Phones are often down and cell phone communication unreliable until damaged equipment can be repaired or replaced by phone companies. Operating computers will depend on sketchy electricity and Internet communication may not be possible.

During the initial period danger is extremely high and for this reason, the authorities will restrict access to flooded areas. As soon as allowed, animal rescue units from organizations such as the American Humane Association, the Humane Society of the United States, Noah's Wish, and the Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) of the United Animal Nations will quickly move to get people and resources to the impacted areas.

As in the workshop, rescuers have been trained to assess animal needs, care for injured animals, establish animal shelters that are co-located with human ones, distribute pet food and supplies, and reunite animals with their families. Once given access to flooded areas, they will determine how best to reach it and assess the specific needs - with both skills and equipment - necessary to safely transport these animals, and others who require rescue from the hazard area to a safer place.

Before landfall of the hurricane, the American Humane Association urged all those with animals particularly those in areas predicted to be hit by the storm to create a family disaster plan that included their animals and to make advance lodging arrangements for animals in case of evacuation. "If it's unsafe for you to remain in your home, it's unsafe for your animals! Take them with you." Unfortunately, some people were unable to take them or left them to their fate and the need to save the other innocent victims of Katrina is now a fact of life or death.

These wonderful humane organizations are urgently calling for funds and some for equipment. You can donate online or call for mailing information. Please help where you can and be sure to also remember the incredible human need for assistance.

Noah's Wish 530-622-9313; http://www.noahswish.org6293130-622-93130-622-United Animal Nations - EARS 916-429-2457;
American Humane Association 303 792-9900;
The Humane Society of the United States

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