IFAW Disaster Response: Redeploying to the US Virgin Islands


IFAW Disaster Response teams have re-deployed to the US Virgin Islands of St. John and St. Thomas, and are working to reunite lost animals with their owners who were forced to evacuate.

While we were preparing these animals for transport, our team on St. John was told of a duck who had weathered Hurricane Irma in an underground parking garage – and was still there. Lost and disoriented, this duck, who locals have been calling Irma, was being fed by friendly residents.

Luckily Mark Vogel and Ed Hart, two experienced animal rescuers were able to locate Irma. After being very friendly to an initial approach, Irma led Mark and Ed on a wild duck chase through the garage before Mark was able to wrap her in a towel.

Heidi Stout, a local veterinarian who has been instrumental in rescuing animals in the wake of these disasters, gave Irma a thorough examination. Other than being a little thin, Irma was given a clean bill of health.

Talking to locals, Mark and Ed discovered that Irma was a well-known local character. They were given a safe location for her release. Now Irma is happily preening herself on the shores of a pond, part of a larger wildlife preserve.

Our teams are back to work, continuing our assessment of animal needs island-wide and ensuring the companion animals to be reunited are healthy and ready to move.

Building shade for horses

When IFAW’s Disaster Response team was able to get back to St. John after Hurricane Maria, we knew we needed to visit Daina Bartlett. During our initial assessment after Hurricane Irma, we learned about her farm, the Carolina Corral, where she keeps horses, donkeys, goats, chickens and dogs.

Daina is a pretty tough lady, and is holding together well considering the circumstances. She was sufficiently prepared with food and water prior to both storms. Unfortunately, she did lose one of her donkeys, Rodney, to Hurricane Irma.

When we visited to continue our assessment of animals needs on the island, Daina said the thing she needed most as shade for her animals. Ed Hart immediately suggested that we could help Daina. Using a tarp provided by FEMA, Ed, Amanda Kennedy, and Mark Vogel were able to repair the frame of an existing structure and fasten the tarp to provide Daina’s animals with some much needed shade. Gem, a pregnant mare, was the first to benefit from the shade. Thanks to the team’s hard work yesterday, Daina’s animals will fare much better as she continues to rebuild her farm after these two terrible storms.

Operation puppy rescue

Teresa was totally distraught. She had come to the veterinary clinic Canines Cats and Critters for help with her sister’s dogs – all eleven of them. As the IFAW Disaster Response team spoke to her, we learned that her sister had been evacuated from the island of St. John for medical reasons some ten days ago, and Teresa had been feeding them since.

But with her sister unlikely to return to the island, and 11 dogs trapped in a small house for ten days, Teresa knew she needed help. And it’s fortunate that IFAW’s team was on the ground. We set out to the house with Ryan Moore, shelter manager at the St. John Animal Care Center and the team got to work.

When we arrived at the house, we were greeted by cute little terrier faces poking through the hurricane shutters, and making a lot of noise.

At first Mark Vogel and Ed Hart tried luring the dogs into crates with some delicious canned dog food…but they weren’t buying it. It was obvious that the leader, who we affectionately referred to as Bitey (for obvious reasons), was telling his pals to steer clear.

So Ed, Mark, and Ryan had to wade into the sea of terriers and start capturing them one by one. They were very unsocialized, and so the team had to use catch poles and slip leads to catch them. Soon after we arrived, we realized that there weren’t just the 11 adult dogs. A litter of tiny puppies just days old had joined the pack. And with most of the dogs crowding under the kitchen sink, now we needed to be extra vigilant to be sure that dogs trying to escape didn’t hurt those puppies.

After literally hours of grueling work in a sweltering house, the team was able to capture all the dogs, and gently remove the puppies.

Now they’re all being housed at the Animal Care Centre, with mama and her puppies at Canines Cats and Critters for some extra care and attention. Once they were out of their house and separated, they became much more sociable. The one we called Bitey has been renamed Chance, and Asya Simmons at the ACC is able to take him on walks, and giving him lots of scratches behind the ears.

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Senior Program Advisor
Senior Program Advisor
Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Veterinarian
Katie Moore, Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Loïs Lelanchon, Animal Rescue Program Officer
Animal Rescue Program Officer
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy