Hurricane Sandy brought together an un-tested coalition of animal welfare groups, local governments and federal agencies focusing on one primary goal: Using already established human assistance networks to help states feed pets impacted by the massive storm.
A team of animal care experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS) responded to the urgent need. Inside the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Response Coordination Center in Washington, they pulled long shifts before, during and after Sandy’s devastation to locate tons of available pet food throughout the United States — overcoming nature’s torrential fury and cutting through delays.
The superstorm is likely to go down as among the costliest in U.S. history, impacting at least 24 states. According to the American Humane Association, some 15 million dogs were in the storm’s path.
The National Animal Rescue Sheltering Coalition (NARSC) was a key player in the pet rescue effort. As Sandy approached the East Coast, NARSC members and partners coordinated available resources and requests for assistance.
“Basically, we helped connect not-for-profit animal response organizations to FEMA resources and human response systems already utilized during emergencies,” said Dr. Jeleen Briscoe, a veterinary medical officer with APHIS’ Animal Care. “This is the first time we’ve actually assisted in the mobilization of resources in response to state requests, where everyone agreed to share resources and not self-deploy.”
One request came after APHIS emergency programs coordinator Anne McCann got a call from West Virginia. Buried under 3-4 feet of heavy snow that broke power lines and created treacherous motoring along icy mountain roads, local emergency managers told her about their urgent need to feed displaced pets and farm animals.
“There was a lot of wind damage, with power outages and several collapsed buildings, including barns, and many wells were inoperable because they had no power,” said Roy McCallister, West Virginia Department of Agriculture.
As the state agency charged with coordinating animal health issues, he said, “We had never been offered such assistance, so we had never before put that information out to our county emergency management directors. When we did put that info out, they were as much surprised as we were. It was a first for West Virginia.”
The connection didn’t end with that initial call, either, McCallister added.
“When any issues or questions arose, Anne was contacted and in a very short time was able to provide answers to us,” McCallister said, estimating that “several hundred” West Virginia pets were saved.
Wanda Merling, emergency relief manager at Phoenix-based PetSmart Charities, a NARSC member, said providing supplies utilizing the American Red Cross’s Emergency Response Vehicles and distribution fleet at the request of New York was “a tremendous win for the pets.”
“People have a one-stop shop, so to speak, for their human needs and pet needs. This is the first time that this has happened, so we are proud to be a part of it.”