October 18, 2016

ASPCA Field Report: Reflections on Hurricane Matthew

responder rescuing a dog

“When the ASPCA’s water rescue team arrived at the bend in Kite Road, a group of about a half dozen people were waiting and surveying the wreckage that floated in front of them,” Matt Hampton recalls. “A week earlier, this had been their neighborhood.”

Senior Manager of Multimedia Projects at the ASPCA, Matt was one of several ASPCA responders who deployed to North Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. The Category-4 storm devastated much of the Southeast and took its toll on thousands of people, homes and animals in its path. In the town of Lumberton, more than 20 inches of rain transformed one neighborhood into a flowing river, deep enough in places to submerge an SUV.

On the scene, Matt joined Joel Lopez, Director of Planning and Field Operations for the ASPCA, who says that many evacuees were given no choice but to leave by helicopter—and that many animals were left to seek the highest ground.  “As we combed the neighborhoods, we found many animals in crisis,” Joel says—in fact, the ASPCA has assisted more than 1,200 to date.

On Wednesday, October 12, a neighbor alerted them to a white Shepherd mix who was stranded in a pick-up truck with an injured leg. 

Responder moving to dog trapped in a truck

“He’d given us an address, but with many mailboxes submerged it wasn’t at all obvious where to go,” Matt recalls. “After hours in the boat we were nearly ready to head back to dry land when we spotted a dirty red truck behind a house, almost blocked from our view by a group of tall pines.”

Joel sprang into action.

“Flooded neighborhoods can be eerily quiet,” he says. “This can be an advantage since one of the tactics we employ is to whistle out and call for animals. Oftentimes they will respond.”

As soon as Joel let out a whistle, the tips of bright, white ears popped up over the threshold of the truck bed. Moments later, a scared and dehydrated Shepherd stood and looked at the team expectantly. “Our hearts filled with hope and joy,” he says.

Responder with dog trapped in a truck bed

With two dogs, two cats, a small handful of supplies and three people already on board, the small rescue boat was nearing capacity—but there was one empty rescue crate left. Within minutes, the white Shepherd was safely on board.

“He was apprehensive at first, but before long he was poking his snout into the lens of my camera and eating treats out of Joel’s hand,” Matt says. Soon he was heading toward shore to receive the veterinary care he so desperately needed.

Just after sunrise the next morning, Senior Director of Disaster Response, Dick Green, who had been driving the boat, took the white Shepherd for a walk. The dog was still weak and unsteady on his back legs, and Matt knelt to take a photo of the two of them. “Dick put his hand out to scratch the top of his head,” Matt says. “Instead, the dog sidled up next to him and nuzzled his face into the side of Dick’s knee.”

Dick Green taking rescued white shepherd for a walk

Calling it a “rescue he will not soon forget,” Joel says he is grateful. “Grateful that someone cared enough to provide the necessary funds for the leash in my hand, for the boat under my feet and for the medical care he would receive. Our team was there to save his life, and the life of so many others, because of the support of people like you.”