Hurricane Sandy left many pets homeless after the storm damaged houses and animal shelters in the northeast US. Although the exact number of displaced pets is still unknown, the American Human Association estimated that nearly 15 million dogs were in the storm's path.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society of the United States sent teams to New York and New Jersey, USA, to aid in search-and-rescue operations, provide petfood and medical care, and create temporary emergency shelters for pets rescued after the storm.
“I’m in a shelter day by day with these people who have nothing left,” said Niki Dawson, director of disaster services for the Humane Society of the United States. “They don’t know if they can go home. They’re depending on clothes from the Red Cross. To see their faces light up when they are able to pet their cat or walk their dog. That, that, is what makes you understand.”
In New Jersey, Dawson says 30 people are working to rescue pets in three counties. On the barrier islands there, the group is bringing in an average of 60 displaced animals each day. In New York, the situation is not quite as bad thanks to a 2007 task force that was assembled after Hurricane Katrina and Congress' passage of the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act. The New York task force aids in creating state and local disaster plans that include pet evacuation procedures. As part of the plan, all of New York City's shelters, city taxis and public transportation systems are required to accept pets.
"It’s not just feel-good legislation,” Dawson says. “If people are not encouraged to bring their pets with them, if they don’t have the comfort and security in knowing that their pets will be cared for, people will not follow evacuation orders. People will put themselves in harm’s way, and put first responders in harm’s way if they have to be rescued,” Dawson said.
Allison Cardona, of the ASPCA’s Field Investigations and Response team, says that her teams have been delivering petfood in regions that have been cut off from power and supplies. Cardona said the efforts will be aided by donations from Petsmart Charities, Iams, Del Monte Foods and P&G Pet Care, which has pledged to donate more than 88 tons of food to help the region’s affected animals.
Social media has also played a role in helping to connect pet owners with lost pets and rebuild after the storm. Facebook groups such as Hurricane Sandy Lost and Found Pets have been created to help find homes for displaced pets and reconnect owners with their dogs. Nearly 30 strangers showed up at Ruthann Vahlstrom-Holbert’s animal shelter, Tails of Love Rescue in East Brunswick, New Jersey, USA, after seeing Facebook posts of the damage the storm caused to the shelter.