Pennsylvania Sandy evacuees and their pets get a helping hand

Our wonderful International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) Disaster Response team member Denise Bash reports from Pennsylvania on her week-long efforts to care for evacuated residents and their pets in Monroe County, PA.

The author, Denise Bash, with Jennifer and her dog, both evacuees from the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.Less than 48 hours after Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast of the United States last month, IFAW was called in to assist the Monroe County Animal Rescue Team (CART) in Pennsylvania called the North East Search and Rescue team.

I jumped into my car and quickly reached the site which is just 4 hours from my home base also in Pennsylvania.

My mission was to open and manage a temporary shelter for the influx of evacuated residents with pets expected from across the state and possibly neighboring New Jersey or even New York.

The initial location set-aside to shelter the pets was really inadequate so we were quickly back to square one, trying to find a suitable place to shelter an estimated 50-75 companion animals.

The people at the East Stroudsburg University went out of their way in their desire to help their community and together with the passionate folks at the Red Cross a magnificent team was set up with the sole objective of caring for those evacuated families (humans + animals) in the best way possible.  

And soon, the evacuees started showing up.

Many folks were exhausted and very cold by the time they gave up braving the ordeal back at home without electricity and running water and decided to head to the shelter.

We greeted pet parents with tears on more than one occasion.

They were not really worried about themselves but so concerned for their animals that they broke down with relief knowing that they were going to be safe.

The North East Search and Rescue team worked day and night by my side.  

We slept on cots next to the pets to make sure that they were as comfortable as possible during the disaster.  

Folks also came down from Pike County as well as convergent volunteers that were students or concerned citizens looking to help.  

We had an elderly woman who was rushed to the hospital so we took very good care of her elderly cocker spaniels, Alex who was blind, and Baxter who is deaf.Volunteers put blankets in the hallway and we took turns every three hours sitting and petting and walking them so they would not decompensate in our care.  

We kept in touch with their parent while she was in the hospital so she knew they were being very well cared for and could concentrate on getting well.  

After two days, she returned and was wheeled down to visit for a tearful reunion.

Diego the bird was by far the most famous resident at the temporary shelter.   Exotic pets requiring heat to survive also made it our way including three beautiful birds, two tree frogs and one beta fish, all of whom were in danger of perishing in the cold.

Diego the bird was by far the most famous resident at the temporary shelter. 

We had to guard the door because so many people wanted to get a look at him.  

He brought many smiles to many sad people.

We also held several cats and dogs for residents who could get a good night’s sleep knowing their pets were close by with a full stomach, warm shelter, and lots of attention.  

Evacuated and displaced residents without pets still made their way over to assist with the animal daily care and I could tell it was the highlight of their day!

New community friendships were created over the bond of taking care of at least one thing within their control as Superstorm Sandy had taken away so much from them. Red Cross volunteers also chose to spend their few precious free moments walking a dog or snuggling a cat in a quiet corner.

For this region of Pennsylvania and so many others affected by this devastating disaster, people joined together to care for their friends, family, and strangers alike.

Pets at the East Stroudsburg University co-located shelter formed the bond that brought us all together to care for those less fortunate and be the heroes our pets see when they look upon us.

Before saying farewell, I cautioned people to be safe in any upcoming storms and prepare for themselves and their pets in case they lost power again. I will always remember each of the 40 pets who came through the door at ESU and helped bring together a community. 

-- DB

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