By Audrey Lodato, Director of Animal Care
Emotion is a part of animal rescue work. You learn to manage it. Depending on what happens over the course of a day, it’s not uncommon to feel elated, angry, hopeless, joyful, and frustrated in a matter of just a few hours. There’s one thing I don’t feel often though, and that’s fear.
Managing an entire population of animal companions is a big responsibility, and those of us who work in this field know how necessary it is the prepare for emergencies. You can have a catastrophe plan, and you can practice it. You can train, you can teach, and you can prevent accidents. You can minimize risk. But you can’t do a damn thing about the weather.
I’m not going to lie to you about how it felt to watch Hurricane Florence gain strength and move straight towards the coast of the Carolinas. It was scary. There were and continue to be thousands of animals at risk from this storm, across multiple states. Even I knew that we were doing everything we could to help shelters evacuate their animals to safety, and that other rescuers were doing the same, animals were still going to die as a result of this storm.
There was also our own facility to worry about. Our Adoption Center is a converted warehouse located near a river in a neighborhood that community that has experienced historic floods before. With some forecasters predicting up to 20 inches of rain over the course of 24 hours, we knew we needed to do everything possible to protect our animals in case the worst case scenario became a reality.
So, in the days leading up to the hurricane making landfall, our challenge was to save as many as we could from communities likely to be devastated by the storm, and protect our own animals too. It wasn’t an easy set of tasks, but this is rarely easy work. So we began.
In advance of predictable natural disasters, one of the most important things we can do is empty animal shelters located in the likely path of devastation. This seems simple, as the disaster may harm the animals. However, it’s actually a little more complicated than that. When a natural disaster unfolds in a community, there is a domino effect. Individuals unable to take their pets when they evacuate leave them at their county shelter, which in turn quickly overflows with animals who have been left behind.
Then, the disaster comes and people get further separated from their pets as the result of the storm. Maybe their beloved pet runs away due to damage in the home, or escapes a family vehicle that’s evacuating. Maybe the caretaker gets injured in the storm, and the animal has nowhere to go.
There are a seemingly endless list of scenarios, but historically what we know is this: after a disaster, shelters will need to make space for incoming animals. If they are already full, animals who were at the shelter before the disaster will be euthanized to make room for those coming in who may be lost from their people. Moving them to safety before the disaster is a critical part of saving lives.
Shelters face many challenges when trying to move their animals in a time like this. First, they need a place for the animals to go — another rescue to accept them. Then they need a way to get them there — someone to drive, access to a van or truck, and money for gas and tolls. For an under resourced rural shelter, these challenges can seem completely insurmountable.
Through our Rapid Response program, we assist these shelters with transport during times of crisis by matching endangered animals with partnered shelters in safer areas of the country. For these emergency transports, we coordinate all of the logistics. Our staff members or volunteers drive to their facility to pick up the animals, then we drive them to the partners. We also pay for all costs associated with transporting the animals to safety. Depending on the locations of the source and receiving shelters, trips often require more than 30 hours of driving — and we continue to fill more and more vans for as long as we can safely conduct transports.
The process is time consuming, exhausting, and expensive. But each time we fill a van with animals who are safe because of our efforts, it is worth it.
A second crisis comes when animals are stranded after the disaster. They may have been left behind in their homes or have escaped. They may be stuck in a flooded house, in a tree, in a hole, or even in an overturned car. After the crisis, Brother Wolf deploys teams of people to assist with search and rescue efforts and animal care. Having worked to clear the shelter ahead of the storm, there is a safe place for them to go while we work to transport them out of the disaster zone to be held for a period of time that will give them a chance to be reunited with their families.
We help in many other ways too, whether it’s bringing media attention to the needs of a community, soliciting donations of supplies and equipment, or helping to organize efforts to rebuild. Our Rapid Response program is a major part of the work we do to build and maintain No-Kill communities, and we’re very proud to be able to help the animals who need us.
While this all happened in eastern North Carolina, we were also taking a precautionary measure to move our own animals from our Adoption Center and into foster homes where they would be kept them safe in the event that our building was flooded or otherwise damaged. Luckily, Hurricane Florence spared Asheville and our animals were able to return safely to our Adoption Center a few days later.
If you would like to support our Rapid Response program, which helps animals who are at risk from natural disasters, please use the button below donate to make a donation. We’re so grateful to those who support us every day by helping to fund life-saving programs like Rapid Response.
Please keep the animals and our rescue teams in your thoughts during this difficult time, while we work hard to save the lives of those who can’t save themselves.
Brother Wolf’s Rapid Response team assists with disaster relief and recovery efforts in the southeast. In 2017, we responded to two natural disasters in a short time period. We deployed staff, volunteers, and resources to Texas after Hurricane Harvey and to Florida after Hurricane Irma and transported nearly 200 adoptable animals from overwhelmed shelters to make room for animals being recovered in the field. In 2017, our Rapid Response team also provided rescue to animals from 3 separate hoarding situations in Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, including one which put over 200 rabbits in our care.