Fight Cruelty

Flash Floods in Tennessee—2010

Aerial view of floods in Tennessee

The Deployment

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. After two days of severe thunderstorms that brought devastating floods to the city of Nashville, TN, and forced evacuations across multiple states, members of the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team were deployed to the area at the request of the Dyersburg-Dyer County Humane Society, approximately 80 miles north of Memphis.

ASPCA responders arrived on May 4, and immediately established a temporary shelter behind the humane society to handle the overflow of animals—providing extra cages, bowls, food, industrial fans and other necessary supplies. The team also set up a decontamination station where animals affected by the polluted flood water can be washed and cleaned.

"The temporary shelter has helped ease the strain on the already full humane society," said Allison Cardona, the ASPCA's Director of Operations. "When we arrived, there were already more than 70 animals, including dogs, cats and various birds that were rescued from floodwaters, trees, rooftops and abandoned homes."

Most of the animals received were removed from homes at the request of pet parents forced to evacuate and were housed at the temporary shelter until claimed. All incoming animals were given a physical exam, and if veterinary records could not be located, were vaccinated as a precaution. The Humane Society did not charge for the emergency boarding or vaccinations.

"Our city was declared a disaster area and many neighborhoods have been evacuated," said Dr. Carol Feather, President and Co-founder of the Dyersburg-Dyer County Humane Society. "We're grateful for the ASPCA's assistance, and to our own staff and volunteers, all of whom have been working non-stop to help animals that are abandoned or lost. We want to save all the animals we can—that's our job."

Search and Rescue

Four counties in Tennessee were declared a federal disaster area due to flash floods that devastated the region. The floods were responsible for the deaths of at least 28 people and put Nashville's Grand Ole Opry House under six feet of water. The situation also affected countless numbers of companion animals, livestock and wildlife. The ASPCA worked with local authorities to implement a water rescue team, with volunteers navigating some areas in small motor boats to access abandoned pets. The team also relied on small aircraft to monitor the scene. Here are two of their stories:

Cattle Rescue

On May 6, the Field Investigations and Response Team received a harrowing call—a herd of cattle was stranded in a nearby pasture.

"The fire department took us on their rescue boat to survey the flooded area," reported Allison Cardona, the ASPCA's Director of Operations. "But the current was a lot stronger than we anticipated, and it was determined not safe to do the cattle check by boat."

The team immediately searched for an alternative way to reach the stranded herd. Within hours, with the help of local authorities, they were able locate a small-plane pilot willing take Cardona on a fly-over of the flooded pasture.

"We saw approximately 35 head of cattle in the affected area," said Cardona. "Fortunately the water was receding, the cows appeared active, and they had access to dry land."
Later that same afternoon, the team received a call regarding a dog being abused by its owner. Upon investigation, they discovered an emaciated Pit Bull and her eight puppies. The animals were removed and taken to temporary shelter.

"Countless numbers of animals were adversely impacted by the storms' recent destruction and are in need of emergency care," said ASPCA Senior VP of Anti-Cruelty, Matt Bershadker." We were proud to assist Dyersburg-Dyer County Humane Society and to be in a position to provide aid for all animal victims."

Family in Crisis

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," reported 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," said 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, reported 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," reported 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," said 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," said 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," explained 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," said 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.