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Monday, January 25, 2010

Acts of Kindness

All eyes have been on Haiti in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake that has killed at least 150,000 people in the western hemisphere’s poorest nation. As we saw during Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters, the tragedy for people is coupled with a tragedy for animals—our fortunes are intertwined as animals are part of our daily lives in so many ways. A team of veterinarians and disaster responders from The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, and Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association has been on the ground in Haiti since Thursday, assisting stray dogs, farm animals, and wildlife. 

A team of veterinarians and disaster responders are on the
ground in Haiti to help animals.

As Wayne Pacelle reports on his blog today, the team also rescued two dogs, Bella and Dieter, who were left behind when an American family was forced to evacuate Port-au-Prince. Bella and Dieter were Katrina survivors, and now miraculously have survived two of the deadliest disasters of the 21st century’s first decade. Their story is one happy ending amidst the larger crisis: Haiti had no animal shelters, animal protection groups, or veterinary schools, and the effort to rebuild the country’s animal welfare infrastructure—like the effort to rebuild the Gulf Coast after Katrina—will go on for some time.

While we watch the drama unfold in Haiti, we also take note of heroic acts by government officials and first responders here at home. As many parts of the South experienced blizzards and record low temperatures this month, lawmakers reminded citizens accustomed to a more temperate climate that the freezing outdoors is no place for their pets. In Brownsville, Texas, Mayor Pat M. Ahumada Jr. issued a notice alerting pet owners that leaving a dog outside in extreme weather conditions is a violation of the state’s anti-cruelty statute, and he opened an emergency animal shelter where dogs could be housed until the cold weather recedes. After seeing reports of dogs found dead and malnourished and suffering from exposure to cold in other Texas cities, Mayor Ahumada took action to make sure that Brownsville residents would have peace of mind and their dogs would have shelter from the storm.

And as California experienced record rainstorms and flooding last week, the Los Angeles Fire Department responded to a call that a German shepherd was stranded in the swelling Los Angeles River. Firefighter Joe St. Georges splashed down from a helicopter and wrestled the dog to safety, but in the process he was bitten on the thumb by the frightened canine. The hero didn’t have any hard feelings and knew the dog was not to blame; he told the press: “He’s cold, he’s wet, he’s scared, and then here’s this stranger jumping on his back for all intents and purposes, and he did what dogs do.” The rescued dog has been named Vernon, after the city where he was found.

Thanks to the selfless people who come to the aid of animals in their time of crisis, dogs like Vernon, Bella, and Dieter will have a second chance. And thanks to the foresighted planning and emergency preparedness by local officials such as Mayor Ahumada, we can make sure animals are safe during a crisis and never end up in harm’s way. Every act of kindness, grand and small, matters to these creatures.


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