The Humane Society of the United States steps in swiftly when called upon to help animals in the aftermath of major disasters, natural and man-made. But even in a situation in which we’re working to help transport and rescue hundreds of animals, we never lose sight of the individual, as a recent case in Alabama illustrates.

Our Animal Rescue Team members met Buster when they were on the ground in that state recently to assist local shelters after devastating tornadoes there. Buster’s owner had lost his home and he brought his beloved dog to the Lee County Humane Society. He was moving into a place where he couldn’t bring Buster with him.

Buster, a tan and black Shepherd mix, is a senior citizen at 13 years old. He is also a total sweetheart and within moments, with his sweet and friendly nature and his eagerness to give wags and kisses, he had won over the hearts of our team and the shelter staff.

Our general approach is to exhaust all opportunities to keep pets with their people, but we realized, with great sadness, that this was not a viable option for Buster. Our team was helping empty the Lee County shelter by moving dogs out to shelter partners in the Pacific Northwest so more dogs impacted by the tornadoes could move in. But Buster couldn’t simply be put on a plane because of his advanced age and pre-existing health conditions.

So our Shelter Outreach Director Kimberley Alboum reached out to partners in states nearby, to which Buster could travel more easily, including the Nashville Humane Association, which had agreed to take in some pets from Alabama. The shelter’s executive director, Laura Chavarria, agreed to help right away. She understood the need to find a special needs dog like Buster a comfortable home and family with whom to spend his golden years, and immediately began work with her team to find him the perfect placement. And she did, not long after: Buster would be going straight to a foster home through one of the Nashville Humane Association’s trusted partner groups, Real Dog Rescue. As our team and the Lee County Animal Shelter staff loaded Buster into our Animal Rescue Team truck, there was not a dry eye in the group.

Buster poses upon his arrival in Nashville with HSUS and Nashville Humane Association staff and volunteers.
Photo by Nashville Humane Association

Happy endings like these are possible not just because of the hard work of our dedicated staff but also thanks to our huge and amazing shelter and rescue partner network -- made up of hundreds of animal shelters, rescue groups and other humane organizations around the country -- which helps us ably in putting the needs of the animals first and ensuring the very best outcome for all of the rescues who pass through our hands. When disasters strike, we work to understand the needs of the community and loop in our partners and work with them to match up animals in need of help and homes with shelters where they will have the most favorable outcomes.

Our teams, regularly in contact with our shelter partners, have a unique understanding of the companion animal trends and needs throughout the United States. They work to ensure that placement is supported by capacity and a willing and able adoption community. There is no magic formula, but thanks to our dedicated staff and our supportive shelter and rescue partner network, we work with a national landscape in mind to ensure we are placing animals responsibly with partners who have ample capacity and expertise.

Sometimes, we end up transporting animals across the country. After the Alabama tornadoes, we transported 120 homeless pets from shelters there to our incredible partners in the Pacific Northwest. At other times, as in Buster’s case, we may look for help closer to home.

Buster is now happily ensconced in his foster home, and so are many of the other dogs we recently transported from Alabama. Thanks to our Shelter and Rescue Partner Program, and the work of our amazing Animal Rescue Team, there are dozens of such stories and happy endings happening around the country every day.

Help animals impacted by disasters or when they may be in need of urgent rescue