Some of the most visible and dynamic work at the Humane Society of the United States is carried out by our intrepid Animal Rescue Team. These highly skilled professionals stand ready to deploy at a moment’s notice to bring relief to animals imperiled by natural calamities, like hurricanes and wildfires, and trapped in manmade disasters, like puppy mills, animal fighting and large-scale cruelty cases. Over the years, the team, working with humane movement partners and law enforcement officials nationwide, has saved thousands of animal lives and brought relief to countless more. Today, on #GivingTuesday, I’ve invited Sára Varsa, vice president of the HSUS Animal Rescue Team, to tell us about the important work she and her team do every day to help animals removed from crisis situations.


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Sára Varsa, vice president of the HSUS Animal Rescue Team, with a resident at the California shelter.[/caption]

This past week, while the rest of the world celebrated Thanksgiving, our team has been on the ground in California’s Butte County, where the deadliest fire in the state’s history has had devastating consequences, leaving wildlife, companion animals, horses and farm animals in desperate circumstances.

At the temporary shelter we are operating, we can see the stress in the animals. They are beloved pets but in many cases they do not even have homes to which they can return. Paradise, a town of about 26,000 residents, was mostly leveled by the fire and has only 10 percent of its structures intact. Not only have lives and homes been lost, but livelihoods, histories, and the entire fabric of a community have been destroyed.

But amidst all the sadness, there are moments of joy as some of the people here are reunited with their pets. This affirmation of the human-animal bond strengthens our own resolve to forge forward and continue doing all we can to keep people and pets together.

Disasters, whether natural or manmade, occur almost every day on a variety of scales, and over the past more than nine years I’ve worked with the Animal Rescue Team, I’ve learned to be at the ready at all times. I am proud to work with a team of dedicated staff who give up their days, weekends and time with family to save lives and to ensure that animals receive the attention, compassion and care that they so need in moments of emergency and peril.

From coast to coast, we get ourselves out there to help. This year alone, we have deployed as natural disasters have pummeled, flooded and burned homes, hearths and livelihoods. In Florida, we helped animals affected by the monster storm, Hurricane Michael. We transported unowned, shelter animals away from record floods in the Carolinas after Hurricane Florence. We helped rescue and find homes for close to 100 dogs and cats from a property in the Southeast. Many of the animals were sick and covered in filth and in need of veterinary care and shelter when we found them. We helped find loving homes for almost 80 Great Danes, whom we had cared for over 14 months after a dramatic rescue from a situation in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.

While there is a lot of heartbreak involved in our jobs, every success story – and there are thousands – make it all worthwhile. Like Pearl, a tiny but determined kitten, who left quite an impression upon us. Pearl arrived at the Brunswick County Animal Services in North Carolina while our team was there to assist with the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Florence. She arrived sick and malnourished, with an upper respiratory infection and a badly infected eye that was later diagnosed as a painful congenital deformity. She lost her eye, but our team was determined that the rest of her life would be filled with love. We worked with our amazing Shelter and Rescue Partner Program to find the perfect place for Pearl to go where she would receive the veterinary care she so desperately needed. Pearl made a quick pit stop at our hub, the Cabarrus County Animal Shelter, before arriving at the Asheville Humane Society where she quickly nestled into the hearts of their staff.

There’s Ben, one of the dogs rescued from a large-scale cruelty case this summer. When we found Ben, his body condition score was at one, which is as low as you can go and still be alive. Ben went to one of our shelter and rescue partners, the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation. Through a caring foster placement, and some deep love and attention, he made strides in his health every day. Thankfully, Ben, now known as Chase, has found his loving home, and no longer has to worry when his next meal will be served.

In California, where our work continues, there are many happy stories, but many owners continue to look for their beloved animals. In the first days we were here, a woman looking for her dog, a yellow lab mix, came to our shelter. She and her husband were not home when the fire started and they never made it back before the fire consumed it. By the time it was safe to return, they had lost everything and their beloved dog was missing. She said the firefighters are going every day to look for him, but he hasn’t been found yet. As we exchanged words of sympathy and sorrow, she thanked our team for our service, and told me she was never going to give up.

Neither are we. But we cannot do any of this without your support, and that’s why, for #GivingTuesday today, we need your help. Your donations today to our Emergency Animal Rescue Fund will ensure that our Animal Rescue Team can answer the call whenever and wherever animals are in urgent need of rescue. And if you join our fight before today is over, our friends at Halo will match your generous gift, by the dollar, with a bowl of food—up to 200,000 bowls. I hope you will consider making a gift, so we can continue to rush in and help the animals who most desperately need us.

Today only, your gift means a bowl of food for an animal in need