Disaster relief for pets helps people too in aftermath of Hurricane Dean

Sep 13, 2007

Weeks after Hurricane Dean, starving dogs are still guarding devastated homes, waiting for owners who may never return.  As humanitarian aid helps Jamaicans rebuild their lives, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) is partnering with the Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA) to help animal victims of the storm and the people who care about them.

Within a few days of the Category 4 hurricane, Gerardo Huertas, Director of Disaster Operations for the Americas for WSPA, arrived in Jamaica to assess the situation and offer assistance to the Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA), a longtime WSPA member society, and others on the island helping animals in need.

“More than 200 animals came into our shelter and vet clinic, including 29 that were rescued from gullies the week that Hurricane Dean passed just south of Jamaica,” said Pam Lawson, General Manager of the JSPCA. “During the storm, our staff stayed to take care of the animals. We lost electricity and water, but continued to operate out of the mobile van belonging to our Senior Veterinarian Dr. Paul Turner.”

 “The link between humans and animals is stronger and more accepted today than ever before,” Huertas said. “When we address the needs of animals, we also help the human victims of disasters. With every relief operation, we need to strengthen our partners who are doing hands-on work in developing countries.”

 “WSPA came through for us and the animals immediately after the hurricane, providing funding to purchase a generator so we won't lose patients on the operating table and costly vaccines that need to be refrigerated,” said Lawson. “They've also made it possible for us to vaccinate and provide emergency veterinary care to many more animals and to keep owned pets in our shelter for six weeks so their owners have the chance to get back on their feet and reclaim them,” she added. 

Ena Cargill came to the JSPCA last week seeking help. “The storm blew off the roof of our old house, and we're not allowed to have dogs where we're staying now.  I love them and don't want to lose them,” she said with tears in her eyes.

When an ambulance with JSPCA and WSPA staff arrived at the house of a neighbor who had agreed to let the dogs stay temporarily, two frightened, small mixed breed dogs were darting along the side of the road dangerously close to speeding cars. Tashika Lechner of the JSPCA asked boys in the yard about the dogs. One admitted that he had beaten them and driven them out into the street. “Why beat the dogs, when they didn't do anything to you?” she asked, convincing the boy to open the gate. Just as the dogs ran inside, hiding by the side of the house, Mrs. Cargill and her husband, Byron, arrived.  As soon as the elderly couple walked in the yard, their dogs, Brownie and Whitie, ran to greet them.  After hearing what had happened, Mrs. Cargill said, “You got here just in time,” adding that one of the three dogs originally left with the neighbors was found dead.

“The fact that she came to us wanting something to be done for the animals shows me that there are caring people out there. With WSPA's sponsorship, we will be taking care of her dogs and making sure they get love and attention until the couple can take them back,” said Lechner, who coordinates adoption and dog training for the JSPCA.

According to Lawson, the boy's cruelty to animals is not unusual in her native country. “Animals need care, protection and homes. Here the majority of people are thinking about how to survive rather than taking care of pets. But one positive sign of change is that more and more Jamaicans are concerned about keeping their pets safe during hurricanes.”  

 “While providing disaster relief is important, reducing vulnerability and increasing resiliency is also vital so that people and animals will be better able to cope with the inevitable future hurricanes,” said Huertas. “That's why the WSPA is partnering with the JSPCA and the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) to provide two temporary hurricane resistant shelters and to launch a public awareness and education campaign.”

“These temporary shelters can be quickly assembled next to human shelters, so people will have a safe place to leave their pets when they're forced to evacuate their homes. Each shelter will be able to hold 60 to 80 animals and withstand hurricane force winds, taking stress off people who are already facing the loss of their homes and don't want to lose their pets as well,” said Lawson.   

“The public awareness campaign will feature simple messages about including pets in your emergency evacuation plans, having your pets wear collars with identification tags, and vaccinating them,” Huertas said. With the support of ODPEM, the JSPCA plans to plaster schools, churches and supermarkets with posters provided by the WSPA.  TV and radio public service announcements are also part of the public education plan. 

 “There's no question that helping animals—both pets and farm animals—during disasters helps people, too,” Huertas said. “We hope that the emergency hurricane resistant shelters and the public awareness campaign on disaster preparedness in Jamaica will become a model pilot program that can be replicated throughout the Caribbean and in other countries where hurricanes are a fact of life.”


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