When disaster strikes, it is the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team's first priority to get into the field to save as many animals as possible. At the height of the recent flooding in Tennessee, the team navigated swift water currents, pulling struggling animals from floodwaters, out of trees and from dilapidated homes.
On May 8, a family who had been forced to leave pets behind placed a desperate call to authorities. "The family had been able to move the animals to higher ground before they were evacuated," reports Allison Cardona, the ASPCA's Director of Operations. "But this was almost four days ago, and we had no idea the conditions we would find them in."
Aided by the ASPCA's powerful and fully equipped search and rescue boat, the Team set off for the home in question. "In situations such as these, proper gear and equipment is vital for a successful rescue," says Kyle Held, Midwest Director of ASPCA Field Investigations and Response. "When doing water rescues, it's always the unseen that presents the biggest hazard. The murk could be covering shattered glass, wire fencing, even cars or other large objects that the boat could potentially hit—or worse, that a rescuer could step on or become entangled in"
Yet, the most eminent danger of floodwater is contamination. The water itself becomes a deadly toxic soup, which can cause serious harm to both humans and animals, reports Held. "It's polluted by everything you find in a home—sewage, kerosene, garbage, bleach and other hazardous chemicals—and it's everywhere."
Navigating the flood waters, the team arrived at the scene to discover a dozen chickens, a peacock and a goat congregated on a tiny area of dry land which was rapidly shrinking with the rising water. "When you see an emergency situation like this, the initial impulse can to be to rush in because you know the animals are in desperate need," reports Allison Cardona, the ASPCA's Director of Operations. "But you have to slow down, size up the entire scene and determine the safest course of action." An investigation of the home, uncovered a cat, as well.
After taking precautions, the team successfully secured the animals on the boat. During their final survey of the scene, they noticed a small Tabby cat stuck on top of what appeared to be a small trailer engulfed in water. "The cat was hiding in a small nook," says Cardona. "The amount of dry space left was so small, she was soaked, but surrounded by 4-feet of water, there was nowhere for her to go."
The ASPCA search and rescue boat has the capacity to hold dozens of animals comfortably. "As soon as the animals were secured in the boat, they fell asleep," says Joel Lopez, ASPCA's Logistics Manager. "Between the rain, followed by severe heat, and not having access to food or water, they were just exhausted. I like to think they were finally able to relax, now that relief had come."
The next step was to get the animals back to the shelter and decontaminated, a process that consists of repeated washings with Dawn liquid dish detergent. "We set up several decontamination stations at the shelter," explains Lopez. "These animals have been exposed to heavily polluted waters, and since they groom themselves by licking their fur or preening their feathers, the risk for serious illness is high."
At the shelter, a reunion of pets with their families is always a touching experience and this case was no exception. "The family was there to greet us as we arrived back at the shelter," says Lopez. "Emotions were high—they were just so happy to be reunited with their beloved pets."
For vital information on creating disaster plans that include your pets, visit our Disaster Preparedness Tips.