Ten years ago, the nation and the world were horrified by the catastrophic loss of life and property in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The human toll was devastating. But so was the toll on thousands of companion animals throughout the Gulf coast. An estimated 250,000 dogs and cats were displaced or died as a result of the storm.
Animal rescue groups rushed to the scene and committed themselves to the daunting challenge of saving as many lives as they could. The ASPCA worked closely with the Louisiana SPCA and the Humane Society of South Mississippi, sending dedicated staff to work on the ground for two years and contributing $13 million in grants for rescue, reunification and sheltering efforts.
In collaboration with our partners, we helped reunite more than a thousand pets with their owners, and helped transport over 7,500 homeless and displaced animals to the Lamar-Dixon Exposition Center in Gonzales, Louisiana, which had been dedicated to their care.
Despite weeks of round-the-clock work from responders and volunteers, flaws in the process kept us from being even more effective. It became obvious that new organizational approaches and legal fixes were necessary to get ahead of the next major calamity, and—true to form—we didn’t delay.
Less than a year after the storm, two groups were formed with formal support and participation from the ASPCA: the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition (NARSC) and the National Alliance of State Animal and Agricultural Emergency Programs (NASAAEP). These coalitions are dedicated to enhancing communications between animal welfare organizations, state agencies, and volunteers during emergencies. They also conduct in-depth trainings around the country on topics including flood and fire rescue, pet first aid, proper animal handling, decontamination and animal sheltering and assessment.
On the federal legislative side, two Acts passed by Congress—the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act and the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act—added pets to existing federal guidelines for disaster planning, and designated FEMA as the lead agency for pets in federally declared disasters. These laws not only save lives, but elevate the issue of animal safety to its rightful place among other natural disaster priorities.
Another measure only recently proposed, the Animal Emergency Planning Act, would require businesses that house pets—including pet breeders, research facilities, zoos, animal carriers and animal handlers—to develop detailed contingency plans for animal care in cases of emergency. These businesses profit or benefit from animals; it only make sense that they take full responsibility for the animals’ safety.
Important legislative work is also happening at the state level. If you live in California, I urge you to join us and the American Red Cross in supporting AB 317, which will facilitate the establishment of vital emergency shelters in the event of a state emergency. We’re collaborating with the Red Cross to also find ways of co-locating animal and human shelters to help keep families and their pets together during severe crises. AB 317 faces a critical final vote in the Senate next week before heading to Governor Brown's desk for his consideration.
Setting up animal shelters quickly is crucial. During Katrina, many of the existing Louisiana shelters were flooded, making emergency facilities the only available shelters across four parishes.
In New York, lawmakers recently passed a bill that will enable veterinarians to cross state lines to respond to pets in disasters and other crises. Because these unexpected events can often overwhelm local agencies, it’s vital to facilitate the quick arrival of out-of-state veterinarians who specialize in shelter medicine, forensic sciences, and emergency response protocol. This bill is currently awaiting Governor Cuomo’s signature.
Of course, the biggest responsibility for keeping pets safe and alive during disasters belongs to their owners. When owners don’t take necessary precautions, it puts both them and their animals in danger. According to a Fritz Institute poll, 44 percent of New Orleans residents delayed or chose not to evacuate the city during Hurricane Katrina because they refused to leave their pets behind. A similar nationwide poll by Lake Research Partners on behalf of the ASPCA found 42 percent of Americans would also not evacuate without their pets.
Simple, inexpensive preparations can keep owners from having to choose between their pets’ lives and their own. Some of the most important tips:
Micro-chip your pets and make sure they wear collars and ID tags with up-to-date contact information.
Keep current photos of your pets on hand.
Establish quick exit routes in your home, and know the locations of local animal shelters, pet-friendly hotels and friends who can watch your pets for you.
Put stickers on your windows to let rescuers know pets currently live there. (Please remove them if no animals are inside)
Put together an emergency kit, including pet carriers, canned food, bowls, bottled water, first aid items, garbage bags, and blankets.
With natural disasters always threatening to wreak havoc on our lives, we must continue to learn from them and actively prepare for their effects. This is the best way to protect ourselves as well as those whose lives depend on us.
When most people think about animal rescues, they probably visualize professional responders and advocates coming to the aid of dogs, cats, and other animals in desperate and sometimes abusive situations. But this equation leaves out a third party that’s absolutely crucial to saving lives: The community.
Participation by local residents is critical to complete the full cycle of animal rescue—from initial intervention to sheltering and care, and finally adoption. We don’t always get to witness this full cycle in a single endeavor, which makes our recent operation in Moulton, Alabama stand out.
The case began in late June, when we assisted the Moulton Police Department in removing more than 300 animals—including dogs and cats of all breeds and ages—living in filthy and overcrowded conditions at the Lawrence County Animal Shelter.
When we arrived, we found several dead animals among live ones throughout the property, including puppies who’d died from untreated parvovirus. We also rushed a number of animals to an emergency clinic. Other animals were emaciated and suffering from medical issues including parvovirus, distemper and untreated wounds. Some were housed in small wire crates, and others in crowded enclosures where animals fought for limited resources and space.
On July 25 and 26, we held a two-day adoption event for the animals, which was attended by well over 900 people from as far away as Tennessee and Georgia.
All adoptable animals were vaccinated and micro-chipped prior to the event, and the ASPCA made provisions for them to be spayed or neutered as well, at no expense to their new owners. The ASPCA is also helping to cover other veterinary expenses, including treatment for heartworm-positive dogs.
For the adoption event, the ASPCA also instituted a formal process, developed by animal behaviorists and shelter experts, to help ensure animals were going to safe new homes. The process included a detailed application form and mandatory meetings with adoption counselors to assess prospective owners’ home environments as well as their capability to care for an animal, especially ones with special needs.
With each appropriate and successful match, an “adoption bell” was rung to share the good news.
By the end of the weekend, 202 animals—including all of the cats—were adopted. The remaining dogs will be transported and placed with rescue organizations across the country to be made available for adoption. Some will be transferred to the ASPCA's Behavioral Rehabilitation Center, located in Madison, New Jersey, to treat the extreme psychological damage they endured.
This adoption event was a vital part of the overall effort in Moulton, and its success clearly hinged on the participation of community residents ready to demonstrate their capacity for compassion.
We were not surprised by the enthusiastic turnout. In fact, there are compassionate people like this across the country, and it’s critical to connect their compassion to causes that save and protect animal lives. Some people are already inspired and active; others are just waiting for a local event like this to capture their concern.
So what does such an active community look like? On Saturday we saw plenty of outstanding examples:
Moulton residents Brandon and Lindsey Myers, alongside their daughter Rayleigh, 14, and seven-month-old son Crimson, adopted two kittens—one orange-and-white, the other black. “We wanted to rescue an animal from this situation,” Brandon told us. “I reckon my wife and daughter each picked one out… I guess we’ve got big hearts.”
Baxter, a gray Lab mix puppy, was found in critical condition during the rescue and was rushed to the Moulton Veterinary Hospital. There he was treated for canine distemper, a contagious and dangerous viral disease. Baxter was adopted by Dan Mobley and Kristie Oldaker from Huntsville, Alabama, along with their sons Matthew, 11, and Noah, 10.
Sloan Kirby, a nurse and mother from Trinity, Alabama adopted Chloe, a tabby kitten. Chloe was one of more than 40 cats and kittens found in a filthy outdoor pen filled with overflowing litter boxes and surrounded by chicken wire.
Bambi, a lab/hound mix, was adopted by Anna and Stephen McCollum and their daughter, Maddie, 3, of Trinity, Alabama. “We saw the news story and it touched our hearts,” said Anna. “We wanted to do something to help these innocent animals.” After Maddie rang the adoption bell, she gave Bambi this welcoming hug.
This was a busy month in Moulton. But we were constantly motivated not only by the humane work we were committed to doing, but by the many hundreds of average people who showed up—and stepped up—to help us do it.
When police consider prevention and investigation primary responsibilities, when criminal laws and sentences match the seriousness of criminal behavior, and when society resoundingly rejects both the crime and the criminal.
In our efforts to stop animal cruelty, we’re making great advances toward all of these goals. This week, we’re adding another milestone to that list.
Recognizing the public’s pivotal role in stopping crime, the ASPCA and the New York City Police Foundation have just announced a collaboration to expand the NYPD’s successful Crime Stoppers program to include animal victims of cruelty. For the first time in New York City, the public will be able to easily and anonymously provide critical information about animal cruelty crimes in the five boroughs. Some of these unsolved crimes may be broadcast from Crime Stoppers vans that roam the city.
At its core, this is not just a partnership between public organizations. It’s truly a four-way partnership among the ASPCA, the NYPD, the New York City Police Foundation and—crucially—the people of New York City.
Through this partnership, New Yorkers will have the means and motivation to help city animals in crisis, the NYPD will have a valuable new resource to help them close animal cruelty cases, and the ASPCA will be able to help more at-risk animals make the transition from victims and evidence to pets and companions.
But this program relies on the public’s participation for it to have the greatest life-saving potential. So I encourage all New Yorkers to be aware and vigilant of animal abuse and neglect in their city.
One animal whose story needs public attention right now is Fraggle, a pit bull mix who, in January, was found by the NYPD zipped inside a suitcase in the South Bronx, critically malnourished and in need of immediate medical attention.
At the ASPCA Animal Hospital, Fraggle’s recovery was slow, but successful. His case generated a lot of attention, and thanks to our work with Crime Stoppers, the ASPCA is offering a generous reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of his abuser.
If you have any information about Fraggle, please contact NYPD Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS or go to the Crime Stoppers website.
While Fraggle’s abuser is still at large, I’m happy to report Fraggle was adopted in May by a family in Queens.
Our relationship with Crime Stoppers is another example of the huge impact resulting from our comprehensive partnership with the NYPD, which is already producing record-breaking numbers of both animal cruelty arrests and rescued animals across the city. In the first six months of this year, we’ve already seen a 28% increase in arrests and a 115% increase in animals treated over the same time period in 2014, which was already a record-breaking year.
Time and again, we’ve seen that when people are moved to make animal welfare a priority, great things happen for people, pets, and communities. This collaboration makes it clear that animal protection is not just a priority for NYC agencies, but a hallmark of New York City overall.
And on June 29, a 3-year-old English Setter died in Wausau, Michigan, after being left in a car with windows rolled up for more than two hours. According to local police, the temperature of the window glass was 121 degrees, even though the day’s high temperature was 79 degrees.
These stories add to the thousands each year of animals suffering and succumbing to heatstroke in unattended vehicles. The circumstances behind each case may be different, but the avoidable causes are the same, and all point to a single conclusion:
Never leave an animal alone in a car.
Mild weather can seem deceptively safe, but it is not. In less than 30 minutes, the temperature inside a car can rise more than 30 degrees higher than the temperature outside. This is true even if car windows are cracked open or the car is parked in the shade. Dogs can’t cool themselves down as easily as we can, and once they overheat, they can suffer serious organ damage and die.
In Tennessee last week, a new law took effect that will expand a Good Samaritan law to allow people to lawfully break into hot cars to rescue animals in danger. The law previously only applied to saving children. The ASPCA spearheaded a similar law in Washington State empowering law enforcement to rescue animals trapped in hot cars. That law will go into effect later this month.
Even though most states don’t have laws specifically addressing pets in hot cars, know that leaving a pet in a hot car can potentially be a violation of anti-cruelty codes in any state.
If you see an animal alone in a hot car, please:
Immediately call animal control or 911.
Notify the mangers of nearby businesses so they can make urgent announcements to their customers.
Stay with the pet until help has arrived.
To help prevent this kind of cruelty—and make no mistake, leaving an animal in an unattended car on a hot day is indeed cruelty—share this flyer with friends and family. Keep some in your car, so you can offer it to anyone you see traveling with a pet. And talk to your veterinarian about displaying it in the waiting room.
Last year, the federal appropriations bill for 2015 renewed a ban on the use of tax dollars for inspections of horse slaughterhouses, keeping the vile horse slaughter industry from operating anywhere in America … for a time.
This September, that ban expires, putting horse slaughter facilities once again in a position to potentially reemerge in America, and putting the burden on Congress to reinstate its temporary halt.
But while renewing the ban every year stops slaughterhouses from opening on U.S. soil, it cannot prevent American horses—approximately 150,000 every year—from being legally trucked to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada.
Even when horse slaughter plants were allowed in the U.S., tens of thousands of horses were still exported annually for slaughter, and several thousand were actually imported for slaughter.
During those long-distance trips, horses are treated as if they’re already dead, kept in crowded containers and denied adequate food, water, and rest. According to the USDA, 92 percent of these horses are in good physical condition and could go on to lead productive lives in loving homes.
Horse slaughter is also a threat to human health because horses are routinely given hundreds of drugs and other substances during their lives that have not been approved by the FDA for use in animals intended for human consumption.
So we’re asking you to tell your legislators—especially if your representative sits on the House Appropriations Committee—to continue the ban and prevent this cruel and environmentally devastating industry from establishing roots in America. In 2011, when this restriction was not renewed, the dormant U.S. horse slaughter industry wasted no time trying to set up slaughterhouses in several states.
But we shouldn’t have to hold our breath every year while the fate of our horses hangs in the balance. So urge your Congressperson to also support the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act of 2015 (H.R. 1942; S. 1214), which would permanently ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption in the U.S., as well as prohibit the export of horses to other countries for slaughter.
Horse rescues and sanctuaries are doing their part to spread awareness and save lives. In April, more than 100 equine welfare organizations from 33 states celebrated Help a Horse Day, including 53 organizations which participated in the ASPCA Help A Horse Day grant contest, our annual competition to recognize the most effective and creative tactics in helping at-risk horses.
The winning organizations, which were announced this week, employed a wide range of creative strategies, but all were dedicated to the same goal: protecting American horses.
This dedicated effort illustrates the fundamental position horses hold in American culture. But they also play a seminal role in ASPCA history. Nearly 150 years ago, ASPCA founder Henry Bergh stopped a cart driver from beating his horse, resulting in the first-ever successful arrest for horse mistreatment on April 26, 1866.
Bergh famously wrote: "Day after day I am in slaughterhouses … lifting a fallen horse to his feet, penetrating buildings where I inspect collars and saddles for raw flesh, then lecturing in public schools to children, and again to adult societies. Thus my whole life is spent."
The protection of horses has been a core part of the ASPCA mission ever since, including our support of equine welfare legislation, public advocacy, training, horse rescue, and targeted grants.
The work continues because it must. As the profit-driven horse slaughter industry tries again and again to reestablish its operations in America—spreading myths and misinformation to make the cruelty seem practical and even humane—we need to keep them in check.
Prohibiting slaughterhouse inspections is a start, but more comprehensive equine protection is a necessary finish. Our horses deserve it, and our humanity should demand it.