IFAW rescues animals in flooded areas of Manila, Philippines
It was a Tuesday morning when I first got word of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s immediate deployment to the Philippines. It is hard to assimilate the news when you are given only 2 or 3 hours to pack and get on the first plane out, but that is ‘business as usual’ for our disaster response team. Time to think about it? Well, there’s enough time to do that during the 22-hour journey from Boston to Manila.
The mission was very straight-forward. IFAW had been asked by a coalition of animal welfare groups and the local government to assist with animal rescues following the devastating Typhoon Ketsana (aka Ondoy) that flooded huge areas of Manila and surrounding districts. IFAW was to provide specific water rescue responders. The list of challenges included the presence of hazardous debris in the water, electric and phone cables, open man holes, toxic water, and the possibility of a shortage of boats.
Despite all this, a tired but enthusiastic team finally landed at the Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport at 3:50am on Oct. 1st. One of the first things we noted was the weather. It was hot and humid. If it was like this at 4am, what would it be like at midday? No time to think, or even lie down for a nap in an air-condition room, no, we had a scheduled meeting with the Animal Welfare Coalition and the Dept. of Agriculture that would lay down the plan to move forward in rescue efforts of those animals in crisis and distress.
After one of many meetings, the IFAW team split in two to cover 2 of the hardest hit ‘subcities’, mud- covered Marikina and underwater Pasig. I headed for the water with Rich Crook who joined IFAW’s team from Utah where he works for Best Friends.
Rich and I were not alone, we teamed up that day with local group PAWS (Philippine Animal Welfare Society) who we have a long history with. Their shelter in Manila was built with support from IFAW more than a decade ago and we met our friends from PAWS just last year while we conducted an Emergency Response Training in Indonesia. Well, it was time to put that training into good use and after careful coordination with officials from the Philippine Army, Navy and Military, we set off on military trucks as far as we could go and then by boat and on foot to the areas still chest-high in water, places where humans and animals alike had been left isolated.
It’s hard to explain just how surreal it is to walk over flooded streets and encounter makeshift boats and children swimming where cars and motorcycles usually roam. It may have been the jetlag mixed with the unbearable heat felt under the special dry suits we had on, but just being there and rescuing some of these dogs in certainly one of their greatest time of need is enough to get your blood boiling and the adrenaline pumping. We walked many hard-earned miles that first day until there was no more light to continue. On the way we helped many struggling animals by providing food, water and medication and took two of them back with us for extended care at the animal shelter.
At night, we restored our energy and were out again today, rescuing stranded dogs on rooftops or mud-bogged islands of debris and continued our assessment of those animals in rural areas. But as good as I feel about the progress made so far, there are challenging moments ahead of us. As I write this Typhoon Parma is making landfall in the North, not too far away from where we are now in Manila. On its heels another potential Super-cyclone headed this way. They will surely bring more water, more floods and put many lives at risk but we will not stop. IFAW is able to respond anywhere around the world because you make it possible. To learn more about our work to save and protect animals, please visit our website.