I started seeing the posts shortly after Hurricane Dorian made landfall in the Bahamas. People flooded social media, describing the last place their animals were spotted and detailing unique markings like white-tipped tails or scarred ears. Ahead of the ferocious Category 5 storm, over 1,000 Bahamian residents evacuated with no option to bring their animals with them. Shelters on the islands were overwhelmed and badly damaged. Thousands of animals were missing, injured, or trapped under rubble. And the people of the Bahamas were desperate to be reunited with their loved pets.
Our disaster response team is trained to handle situations exactly like this. At the request of the Dorian Animal Relief (DAR) coalition and the approval of the Bahamian government, we arrived on the ground and immediately got to work. After conducting rapid assessments on Abaco and Grand Bahama, the hardest hit areas, we set up MASH units (temporary shelters and triage units) where we could begin taking in animals. On Nassau, we worked with our DAR partners to set up a dispatch center to process the inflow of requests from owners looking for their pets.
I was based with the team in Nassau to help handle operations and communications for our animal rescue mission. As I watched Shannon Walajtys - IFAW’s Disaster Response Director and our unwavering leader - hand out rescue assignments to our responders and advise veterinarians on managing a situation of this caliber, I knew the animals were in good hands.
As requests flooded into the dispatch center, one dog in particular kept coming up — a 13 year-old yellow mixed-breed named Candy. She stood out because of her age and because of the tireless efforts of her family to find her. In their requests, Candy’s family outlined where she was last seen, the location of their home in Abaco, and the fact that she may be hiding under the dining room table, her favorite spot.
Shannon read the details aloud to the IFAW responders prepping to leave for Abaco that day. In tandem, our partners at BAARK (Bahamas Alliance for Animal Rights and Kindness) dispatched the rescue request to an Urban Search and Rescue team in the area.
And then we waited.
A couple of hours passed and my phone buzzed. I opened the text to see a picture of one of our responders kissing the head of a sweet-looking yellow lab. The Urban Search and Rescue team had found Candy. Our responders met them at a pickup point and transported the friendly, good-natured dog to the MASH unit before taking her to the airport.
“It was inspiring to see all these people come together to help one animal, the same effort that would’ve gone into finding a missing person. It was clear Candy wasn’t just a pet, she was a member of the family,” says Alex Johnson, an IFAW responder who was on scene for Candy’s pickup.
Candy boarded a BAARK-sponsored plane to Nassau that afternoon. I went to the airport to meet her as she arrived and saw the happy moment she was reunited with a grateful member of her family. Our team has been bringing in countless dogs and cats just like Candy and there will be many more in the days to come. I know I speak for all of the IFAW disaster responders when I say this is the reason we do what we do.
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