Long before emergency alerts ring out, members of the Humane Society of the United States' Animal Rescue and Response team are ready to respond at a moment’s notice. Armed with specialized training and cutting-edge equipment, these elite professionals answer the call for help wherever animals are in harm’s way.
They transport animals out of storms’ deadly paths and brave the waters for those left behind. They set up emergency shelters to provide refuge for animal victims of wildfires, earthquakes and tornadoes. And they work to prevent animals from being caught in these dire situations in the first place by helping communities develop disaster preparedness and response plans.
The work is hard and the hours are long, but no team is better equipped to respond when disaster strikes.
“Whether the team is rescuing hundreds of animals from a large-scale cruelty situation in pouring rain, driving boats through hazardous waters in flooded neighborhoods to remove animals from danger or providing comfort and care to rescued animals in a shelter, they do it with compassion, love and grace,” says Jessica Johnson, senior director of the Animal Rescue and Response team.
In this article, you’ll learn more about the team and how you can help support our lifesaving work.
in 33 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.
who donated more than 68,000 hours of their time.
such as hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes and wildfires.
OUR TEAM: As part of the most effective animal welfare organization in the world, the Animal Rescue and Response team assists in situations other groups can’t. With two dozen experienced and highly trained members, a nationwide database of skilled volunteers and a network of more than 300 shelter and rescue partners across the country, we have the capacity to respond to situations where hundreds of animals’ lives are in danger and ensure adoptable pets find the homes they deserve.
“We’re often only able to share a short video or a glimpse from a photograph of the work that we do, but there are so many other moving parts and important people involved that make these rescues possible,” Johnson says. “We spend days and sometimes weeks planning and preparing every detail to the best of our ability to ensure the greatest and safest outcome for the animals, our team and the public.”
OUR RESPONSE: When we hear news of a severe storm approaching or other emergency situation, we immediately reach out to shelters and agencies in the area to offer assistance. Because we are a nonprofit organization (and not a law enforcement agency), we must receive a request for help from a local government agency before we can respond. This protocol is in place to ensure that the response is organized and that resources are sent to where they are needed most.
With a signed agreement in place, we can quickly deploy team members and equipment to affected areas. Depending on the need, we can transport adoptable animals from shelters to other parts of the country, establish emergency shelters to house animals caught in the field and rescue stranded animals.
We strongly encourage people with pets to have a disaster preparedness plan to help keep their pets safe and to always evacuate with their animals. We work year-round with communities to ensure plans are in place to help residents with evacuation and provide shelter for them and their pets.
OUR FLEET AND EQUIPMENT: The rescue team has access to an array of fully equipped vehicles and other materials to assist them in the field, including:
- Three flat-bottom boats to rescue animals and transport supplies in flood conditions.
- A 50-foot, climate-controlled shelter trailer, affectionately known as the “Big Rig,” that can transport up to 120 animals at a time.
- A horse trailer capable of hauling up to six equines at a time.
- Three climate-controlled transport vehicles for small animals, one of which includes a crime lab to assist law enforcement on the scene of a cruelty situation.
- Extended-cab pickup trucks to haul equipment trailers and safely transport team members in rough conditions.
- An enclosed trailer fully stocked with disaster response equipment.
- Animal housing materials such as crates that team members can use to set up emergency shelters in a disaster zone.
- Personal protective equipment and first-aid supplies for all responders and sheltering personnel.
OUR VOLUNTEERS: When the Animal Rescue and Response team responds to a cruelty case or natural disaster, we call in highly skilled volunteers to help provide care to animals in our emergency shelters. Animal rescue volunteers come from all walks of life, generously giving their time and talents to help animals in need. Whether it’s handling animals, cleaning kennels or performing administrative tasks, their work is a key part of our mission to save lives.
All rescue volunteers must be at least 18 years old and complete FEMA courses and HSUS training on safety, emergency management and other critical aspects of emergency care.
Crisis response during COVID-19
As hurricane season approaches, Johnson and her team are evaluating their protocols and preparing to respond in the safest, most effective way possible. “We are working through the many possible scenarios for response during a pandemic and figuring out how to achieve the most impact from afar, if needed.”
Animal rescue volunteers work with our Animal Rescue and Response team to help save animals who are the victims of illegal animal cruelty and natural disasters. Think you have what it takes to join our ranks? Don’t wait! Apply now to make sure you have the proper training so we can count on you when disaster strikes.