The devastation wrought by earthquakes in Türkiye earlier this year is almost unfathomable. Our rescue team is still on the ground, honored to bring some joy and relief to survivors, who lost virtually everything, by reuniting them with their animals.

With each passing day, our team gathers more stories from the field. Recently I’ve been thinking about one earthquake survivor, Rumeysa.

Just before the earthquake hit, Rumeysa’s cat, Leyla, woke her up, and that is how Rumi was able to escape her building before it completely collapsed. Rumeysa jumped from a window, injuring her leg. To recover, she was transferred from Iskenderun, a city about one hour from Antakya, where our rescue team is based, to Istanbul. But in the chaos, she became separated from Leyla. She turned to Facebook with a plea for help in finding her beloved cat. Our team took on the challenge to locate and bring to safety this scared and disoriented cat.

Kelly Donithan, who is leading our rescue efforts in the region, contacted Rumeysa and asked her to record her voice calling Leyla’s name repeatedly. With this voice recording in hand, Donithan arrived at the location where Rumeysa’s house had once stood. At dusk, Donithan played the recording of Rumeysa’s voice over and over. Finally, Leyla emerged from among the broken buildings. Our team brought Leyla to one of the field veterinary hospitals in central Antakya to examine her and give her much-needed food and water.

As Leyla received expert care in our veterinary clinic, Rumeysa was flying back from Istanbul—with one leg in a cast—to reunite with her precious pet. As soon as she arrived, Rumeysa took Leyla into her arms and started crying, and so did everyone who witnessed their reunion.

Donithan continues to be in touch with Rumeysa, who is still processing all that has been lost. Rumeysa worked as a nurse at the local hospital and lost friends and colleagues in the earthquake. “My everything is gone,” she wrote to Donithan. “There is only Leyla.”

A text exchange between Rumeysa and Kelly Donithan after Leyla was found.
Kelly Donithan/HSI

Since the first earthquake hit, more than 1,500 animals have received veterinary care in Antakya at three veterinary field clinics set up by local veterinarians and animal welfare groups. Most of the animals rescued and brought to the clinics have suffered cuts, bruises, infected wounds, infected eyes, dehydration, starvation or shock. Even though most of these animals have had little to no access to food or water, they have survived. Miraculously, our team is still finding dogs and cats alive more than three weeks later.

I’m also thinking about the family of dogs our team members helped just days after they first arrived. They discovered a dog among the broken buildings, and it was clear that she had very recently given birth. Our team set out to locate her puppies, who were so young they still couldn’t see. The entire family was brought back to the field hospital, where they could recover and be safe. As soon as she felt secure, the mother dog fell asleep while nursing her pups. Since that day, the family has been transported to a rescue group that arranged to bring them to a foster home. Once they are ready, they will be up for adoption.

I’m so proud of our experienced disaster responders who have traveled to Turkey from all over the world—the U.S., Europe, Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia and India—to help local communities recover and provide essential animal-related relief. In the coming weeks, our team expects more disaster responders to arrive from Australia, Guatemala and El Salvador, and will continue to work with locals to bring as many animals to safety as possible.

You can help by making a donation to support our teams and their work in emergency situations such as this one.

Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.