Our Animal Rescue Team is on the ground in Escambia County, Florida, helping local authorities find and transport animals affected by flooding from Hurricane Sally to safety.

The scenes on the ground are devastating. Diane Robinson, program manager for disaster services, was among those staff members who drove through intense wind and rain to reach Pensacola last night. Diane reports seeing massive trees uprooted and powerlines downed all over, and entire communities without power.

With the immediate human-focused relief work well under way, local animal control agencies and National Guard teams are working with ART responders to address the needs of animals and those citizens seeking to help them in some of the hardest hit areas.

The ART transport trailer, the “Big Rig,” has a capacity to move 75 to 80 animals during a single trip. It’s in Escambia county now, along with boats that may be needed to carry out rescue work in extremely flooded areas.

In their searches, ART staff members have seen some striking examples of the toll Sally has taken on animals, including dogs standing in the debris and wreckage in their yards looking confused and stunned even though their owners were nearby. Disasters like these can take as great a toll on animals as they do on people. As we find animals in need in the days to come, we’ll do our best to help them.

After Hurricane Katrina, the Humane Society of the United States stepped up its disaster response services, both here and overseas. Our experiences over the last 15 years have reshaped our approach to such situations. Now, when we get news of an approaching storm or other threat, we reach out immediately to our shelter and rescue partners in the affected area. We take quick and proactive action to move animals to safety before disaster strikes, we intensify our efforts to get the word out to people with pets in the path of the storm, and we do our best to help put the pieces back together in the aftermath.

The public policy landscape has also changed for the better, as more response agencies and governments have taken steps to incorporate animals into their disaster planning scenarios. This is part of the post-Katrina change: government agencies, relief organizations, and regular citizens all understand that a successful disaster response depends on a strategy that includes not just people but the animals they cherish.

In the days ahead, we’ll continue to bring you reports on our work in Florida. Our thoughts are with those affected by this storm, and with hurricane season upon us, we want to remind all those with companion animals to prepare, and to take all necessary steps to keep themselves and their beloved animals safe. You can save yourself a lot of stress and trouble by making a disaster plan for your pets and by assembling a disaster preparedness kit. If you plan to evacuate, include your pets in your plans because animals left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost or killed.

As always, your support is what makes it possible for us to do this work, and to be ready to respond when it counts, now and in the future. Please consider making a lifesaving donation to support this and other emergency rescues, as well as our work for all animals.