In the Philippines, Typhoon Pablo serves as a vivid reminder of why we reach out after disasters

The author surveys the damage in Mindanao. c. IFAW/PAWSCompostela Valley, Davao Oriental and Agusan del Sur are areas that many people would not be able to point out on a map. 

When I heard that these were the areas hardest hit by Typhoon Bopha, locally known as Pablo, I had to look them up. 

The International Fund for Animal Welfare has a history of responding to disasters in the Philippines and working with the Philippines Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). 

Our previous responses were on the island of Luzon where the capital Manila is located. 

Typhoon Pablo, a category 5 super typhoon, took a unique path and hit Mindanao, an area that typically spared from typhoons. 

The storm made landfall in the early morning hours of December 4 and was declared the strongest typhoon to ever hit this area.  Initial reports showed that the storm destroyed the primarily agricultural area’s main crops of bananas and coconuts, many homes were lost, and the death toll was quickly rising. 

Based on the pictures of mass destruction, we were concerned that animals may need our help, but information was scarce.

May Felix-Razon of PAWS confirmed for us she was not hearing any animal related news within the Philippines. 

PAWS decided the best way to see what these needs might be would be to fly down to Mindanao for an initial assessment and invited IFAW to help. 

With government efforts focused on human recovery and relief, we knew we needed to time this assessment appropriately.

We booked our flights to arrive in Mindanao early December 10. 

May and I joined Frederick Lasmarias, a PAWS volunteer that grew up in Mindanao. 

As we drove to the first area of New Bataan, it became clear that the situation was a lot worse than I ever could have imagined. 

The mountains of normally green lush banana and coconut trees were now brown as trees were uprooted and rotting. 

Nearly every house had damage with the majority no longer inhabitable. 

We arrived in the more populated part of New Bataan and met with local officials at their main evacuation center.  We then walked through the community looking for signs of animals. 

We quickly found dogs, pigs and chickens.

Their families were eager to tell us their stories of how they survived the storm. 

Some of their neighbors were not so lucky as this was an area hit by a landslide and consequently many people died or were still missing. 

They also told us about animals that died in the storm and their concern for how they were going to feed the survivors.  We fed the animals we saw and left small bags of food for families to continue to feed them for the next couple of days. 

Our next stop was Monkayo. 

We stopped at a local school that was being used as an evacuation center.  The concrete school itself was damaged from the storm, but weathered better than homes made from wood and woven reeds. 

We met with a family who lost their home entirely. 

The author says hello inspects one of the animal survivors. c. IFAW/PAWSThey brought their dog to the school, but the small brown and white native dog was traumatized by the storm.  She hid under a table in a room filled with debris.  I offered her food and she cautiously took a few bites. 

A young girl of about two watched as I offered the kibbles and then she took some in her own hand. 

We were all moved as she hand-fed her dog and it was clear that the dog was comforted by her. 

She may not have understood the devastation of the storm, but she demonstrated that she understood compassion by comforting her dog. 

The entire team knew that what we were witnessing was the reason why animals need to be included in disaster planning and response.

We continued our assessments over the next two days and found similar stories in the communities of Boston, Cateel, Veruela, and Compestela. 

People were surprised to see that we were there to ask them about their animals and once we started talking to one family, the word spread quickly and everyone would want us to see their animals.

Veruela, an area that received little media attention, was extremely excited for our visit. 

We spoke with Barangay Captain Adela Matuod who told us that the area has an ordinance that dogs are to be kept tethered. 

Evacuations were ordered and a temporary shelter was set up for families, but the community did not expect the storm to be that bad, so they did not evacuate. 

A dog in Monkayo eating out of a coconut. c. IFAW/PAWSSuddenly, they had a flash flood and when the waters began rising quickly, people panicked and flocked to the evacuation center.  In the rush, they forgot about their tethered dogs.  Many dogs died in the floods. 

We talked about disaster preparedness and the captain said next time they would tell people to at least let their dogs loose to give them a chance of survival and was even open to the idea of letting families bring dogs to the evacuation center since they have a good rabies program. 

While passing out food, I was surprised to see how many people walked their dogs on leashes to get to us.

It is easy for people to think that during difficult times after disasters, there are greater things to worry about than animals.  But time and time again, we saw the strong bond people have with their animals whether they are companion animals like dogs or farm animals like pigs.  That is why it was so important for IFAW responders to reach out to communities after disasters. 

More to follow once IFAW and PAWS debrief.

--JG

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Experts

Cora Bailey
Director, Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW)
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Dr. Ian Robinson, Vice President, Programs & Int'l Operations
Vice President, Programs & Int'l Operations
Gail A'Brunzo, IFAW Wildlife Rescue Manager
Wildlife Rescue Manager, IFAW HQ
Hanna Lentz, Program Officer/Campaigner, IFAW HQ
Program Officer/Campaigner, IFAW HQ
Jan Hannah
Northern Dogs Project Manager
Kate Nattrass Atema, Program Director, Companion Animals
Program Director, Companion Animals
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Nancy Barr, Program Director, Animal Action Education
Program Director, Animal Action Education
Rebecca Brimley, Program Advisor
Program Advisor
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters