“These pets are not direct victims,” said SDHS’ chief operating officer Jennifer Brehler. “They’re adoptable cats and dogs that were already in shelters near the affected areas that were transferred to San Diego to create room for hurricane victim pets – the lost, strayed, or abandoned. These healthy and socialized pets do not have owners who will be searching for them.”
According to Brehler, the upcoming news of Hurricane Harvey alerted SDHS to extend assistance and services to Houston’s SPCA and Florida shelters. “As the need grew, we along with other shelters, responded,” she said.
Seven San Diego Special Response Teams – comprised of staff and volunteers – were deployed to temporary shelters, Houston’s SPCA and Collier County Animal Services. San Diego’s Swift Water Rescue Team – San Diego Humane Law Enforcement and Animal Recuse Reserve – was also deployed. Trained in swift water and flood rescues, these professionals work along stateside task forces in emergency response situations.
Wings of Rescue flew pets from Louisiana and Florida to San Diego where staff and volunteers transported the animals to SDHS, the Rancho Coastal Humane Society and Labradors and Friends.
San Diego Humane Society’s president and CEO Gary Weitzman, explained that in addition to its Technical Rescue Team, shelter teams provided care to displaced dogs, cats, horses, pigs, cows, trapped livestock and even wildlife. Working tirelessly, teams “never hesitated” to respond to pleas to reunite pets with owners or to provide animals care and comfort.
“Working alongside animal welfare colleagues from organizations in Oregon, Georgia, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas and Florida reminded me of the importance of coming together during times of such devastation – not just for animals in need but for people as well,” he said.
Weitzman’s team also helped pets in housing adjacent to a Florida shelter. The pets belonged to hospital patients and evacuees.
“Our team cared for the pets so owners would have the comfort of their pets during such a difficult time,” he continued. “Imagine losing your home and being worried about being able to keep your pet. I’m so glad our teams could provide that peace of mind to these hurricane victims.”
Weitzman added that Wings of Rescue flew 49 adoptable dogs and cats from Louisiana and Southeast Texas to Gillespie Field where staff and volunteers unloaded the creatures in temperatures topping 100 degrees.
Other heartwarming stories include a litter of kittens found amidst the storm rescued by Jackie Noble, SDHS Kitten Nursery supervisor, who nursed the eight kittens back to health while traveling back to San Diego in an RV.
Brehler said that volunteer training is essential for the ability to respond to such disasters.
“Disasters like hurricanes remind us that it takes more than one person or organization to come together and help out,” she said. “Our staff and volunteers are willing to pack up and hit the road immediately, while their colleagues backfill their work. Our staff and shelter volunteers made three transfers from Gillespie airport to the San Diego Campus. And, the community responded with crates and gifts.”
“We all knew the storms were coming,” continued Weitzman. “When it hit, we didn’t even wait for Houston SPCA to call us. We made plans to get on the road. We’re fortunate that the community of animal lovers and those whose professional lives support them are all one when it comes to helping people and animals in need. Thank you for being part of that community and helping us be there when others need us.”
Brehler stressed the importance of “generous” donations” in SDHS’s ability to participate in rescue efforts as such in “a moment’s notice.”
“Monetary or in-kind donations are always essential to ensure that we can continue to do the important work we do,” she said.
Weitzman also added that donor commitment to SDHS makes response possible. “You’re [donors] an enormous part of these collaborative efforts,” he added. “Your support during the tragedy of these hurricanes has been tremendous, making you a critical part of our rescue team.”
Relief efforts are far from over for all.
“Recovery will go on for months,” concluded Weitzman. “Many people have expressed concern about the care and support of animals affected by this disaster. When tragedy strikes we’re here for each other and for those 2,000 miles away as well.”
According to the SDHS, refuge adoptees will be spayed or neutered, administered current vaccines, microchipped, awarded a certificate for a free veterinary exam, along with 30 days of Trupanion pet insurance and a bag of Purina chow. Adoptions are based on a first come, first served. Carriers are required for pickup. Adoptions can be made at SDHS’s San Diego Campus, at 5500 Gaines St. and its Oceanside Campus at 572 Airport Road.
Brehler urges San Diegans to “spread the word about the wonderful pets looking for new homes.”
“Of course, adopting a pet allows us to continue to help even more animals in need,” she concluded.
All of the animals will remain in the care of the SDHS until adopted.