It truly gave me a lift to watch the Weather Channel’s two-part feature on our animal rescue work (here and here). I’m immensely proud of my Animal Rescue Team colleagues. I am also grateful to them, and I admire them for their courage, compassion and calm in the face of emergencies that upend the lives of humans and animals in communities all over the world.
Because of these responders, this world is so much closer to what it should be when it comes to strengthening the safety net for animals and honoring and upholding the human-animal bond. In the world we envision—the world we’re trying to build together—people don’t forget about animals in distress. They act on their concerns, and they deliver on the promise of that better world.
So many of our organizational activities and programs focus on preventing animal cruelty by stopping it at the source, and that usually involves major campaigns like ending trophy hunting, knocking out the puppy mill industry, eliminating intensive confinement of farm animals, eliminating wildlife petting and selfie operations, or promoting alternatives to animal use in education, entertainment, fashion, research and sport. These are all important and they are the key to lasting change. But what about animals in immediate need of rescue and assistance because of a disaster or emergency? Who helps them?
I’m glad to say that we do, by sending highly trained, well-equipped, and deeply experienced responders with big hearts to rescue and care for animals displaced or at risk of harm in disaster situations involving hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfire, flooding and other causes. Our teams work with local humane organizations and emergency response agencies to address the urgent animal rescue needs that surface in nearly every such situation.
We appreciate that the Weather Channel’s feature extends its message of preparedness to animals. The videos about our team include recent footage of actual deployments in flooded communities, a look at the equipment and vehicles we rely on for rescue, handling and transportation of animals, and a training exercise that reflects the commitment to preparedness and technical skill that makes our team members so valuable in times of crisis.
Our disaster and emergency response work goes back at least half a century, and we’ve saved tens of thousands of animals from death and displacement over the years. Our biggest deployment ever was the one we carried out in Louisiana and Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when we put the whole organization to work responding to the nation’s worst disaster. By the time we left the field, our teams had rescued 10,000 in the two states.
The lasting legacy of the Katrina moment was the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, legislation that made federal funds for disaster relief contingent on animal-related disaster planning. Today, many years later, we’re still working to support local disaster agencies and humane societies in building out their capacity for animal-related response, and we’ve seen so much progress in preparedness planning.
Even so, the need for emergency response will continue to rise in the years to come, with environmental and other factors increasing the risk of disaster. I can say for sure that we’ll be ready to do our part, thanks to donors and supporters who agree with us that we can’t forget about animals—or leave them behind—when danger threatens.
Follow Kitty Block @HSUSKittyBlock.