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Rev. 3.26.03 Copyright ANIMAL PEOPLE, INC. 1992--2003
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1992:
The hurricane is over, but the storm goes on MIAMI, FLORIDA-- First came Hurricane Andrew, devastating south Florida and tearing a path of destruction along the northern edge of the Gulf of Mexico all the way to Louisiana. In the wake of the August 24 storm, animal rescuers impressed the world with prompt, professional response. Observers including New York Times correspondents, military personnel, and coordinators of relief for human disaster victims praised--and sometimes envied--what they saw. "Noah was there!", ANIMAL PEOPLE declared.
Then came exhaustion and frustration. In some instances the need for help dragged on months longer than public attention remained focused on the plight of the victims, both human and animal. Donations were fewer, as were accolades. Combat fatigue soon followed. In other cases, individuals who gained a sense of meaning and self-worth from helping out insisted on continuing to "help" long after their efforts ceased to be useful--and felt hurt when told to go home.
There were major misunderstandings, occasioned in part by disrupted communications, an inevitable aspect of every disaster. There was massive waste of relief supplies, due to muddled communications, fractured transportation links, and lack of intact weatherproof and waterproof storage facilities. And of course there was profiteering on the part of unscrupulous individuals and organizations, including some nonprofits, who saw the whole situation as a chance to make a buck. Exhibiting a response pattern familiar to those who study catastrophes, some animal rescue workers eventually joined the chorus of disgruntled human victims and rescuers who began hurling charges and countercharges only hours after the storm subsided.
Amid it all, there was a second wave of injuries to animals--inflicted this time by people, on purpose. "We had an outbreak of post-Vietnam stress syndrome," Fort Lauderdale Dog Club president Linda Gruskin explained. "Wife-beating went up 1,000 percent." And so did animal abuse. Some people began shooting stray animals, purportedly to put them out of misery or to protect public safety. In one instance a rescuer was approaching a horse when a passerby stopped and gut-shot the animal with a machine-gun. "Our vets have learned to treat more gunshot wounds than you'd have seen in a war zone," Gruskin continued. There were also outbreaks of animal sacrifice and dogfighting in the tent cities for displaced people--neither problem anything new to the area, but both usually kept more discreet.
Just as complaints from human rescue workers tended to focus on the American Red Cross, the leading private relief organization for people, complaints from animal disaster workers focused on the American Humane Association. Gruskin managed the FLDC's MASH unit, which was apparently the busiest and longest-operating of many set up by a variety of groups in the first days after the storm. By November, she estimated, her MASH had served 6,000 animals. FLDC members were fostering over 1,000 dogs, cats, birds, gerbils, and for a time, even 60 goats, Gruskin said. But, she charged, "The AHA sent us no food and no medicine. The only way we got anything was by soliciting the dog fanciers and the cat fanciers." "None of us are too happy with the AHA," agreed Sally Matlock, who said she spent $10,000 of her own money in six weeks, running a private MASH unit that served 2, 000 animals. The MASH headquarters was a recreational vehicle provided by the Orlando Humane Society. Despite her complaints, which centered on the distribution of AHA assistance by the Greater Miami Humane Association, Matlock acknowledged that the AHA had supplied her unit with some drinking water, pet food, and food for volunteers. Yet another disaster relief volunteer, Judy Piccola of the Animal Refuge Center in Fort Myers, accused AHA of "creative writing" in connection with a fundraising appeal mailed just two days after Andrew hit. ANIMAL PEOPLE investigated each charge, talking to numerous sources both on and off the record, but like the charges made against the Red Cross, the complaints about the AHA ultimately proved to be misdirected, through misunderstanding of the organization's role.
As AHA animal protection division director Dennis White explained and humane society personnel all over Florida confirmed, "American Humane was on the phone to several humane societies up and down the Florida coast, as well as to the Bahamas Humane Society, a day before the hurricane hit." By the time Andrew came ashore, the essentials of the response that so impressed outside observers were already arranged, and White was already on his way to the scene, the seventh disaster he's dealt with personally. "It is our position to work with local animal care or control agencies after disaster strikes," White continued. "Assistance can be in several forms. Typically, we provide food, emergency medical expenses, and housing of animal disaster victims." In Florida, the AHA began food distribution in the hard-hit towns of Homestead and Cutler Ridge on August 29, established a foster care center for homeless animals at Davie on September 8, and coordinated work involving the humane societies of Vero Beach, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Broward County, and Miami, as well as the Army Corps of Veterinarians, local veterinarians, and several horse clubs. "Representatives from the American Animal Hospital Association and the Florida Veterinary Medical Association provided veterinary coordination," White added.
The foster care center was of modest scale, handling only 25 animals at a time, but the 25 were animals who for various reasons were believed extremely likely to be reclaimed by their keepers, or to be adopted if not reclaimed within three weeks. Animals with lesser prospects were usually euthanized if not claimed or at least positively identified within the usual holding period for the pounds and shelters who picked them up (extended a few extra days when possible, as shelter staff recognized that many human storm victims wouldn't be able to get to holding locations to look for lost animals while roads were still blocked and public transportation wasn't running)
On October 27, the AHA turned management of the Davie center over the to Humane Society of Greater Miami, ending a seven-week presence. The AHA response to any disaster is always directed through member pounds and shelters, who in turn handle liaison with community groups and regional associations such as dog clubs. Because AHA is a national organization, it is most active in coordinating work that involves other national organizations and businesses--such as obtaining and transporting supplies and emergency personnel.
Although AHA disaster assessment teams do some hands-on care, as opportunity permits, their main job is obtaining an overview. Hands-on work is generally left to the pounds' and shelters' own staffs and volunteer networks, since bringing additional people other than needed specialists into a disaster area often just compounds the inescapable confusion. Like the Red Cross and other disaster relief agencies, the AHA maintains a special disaster relief fund, contributions to which may not be used for any other purpose. Appeals are issued as promptly as possible after each disaster in order to rebuild the fund before it is exhausted. The post-Andrew appeal was issued unusually quickly, White said, because a membership mailing was already in assembly. The AHA simply substituted a new appeal letter for the one previously written and printed, and used the envelopes it had on hand.
Beyond communication and transport problems caused by Andrew itself, ANIMAL PEOPLE found, the most evident cause of discord among animal rescuers was mutual distrust as result of past history. In particular, there was friction between Dade County Animal Control and private organizations including the Animal Refuge Center and Matlock's group, Citizens Against Pet Overpopulation, apparently involving ongoing efforts to strengthen local anticruelty and anti-breeding measures. There was also considerable friction between activist groups and the local and regional veterinary societies. White noted that, "Ego problems began to arise when local vets began to reopen their practices. The MASH units felt they should stay and provide everything free, even rabies shots. The state health department did not feel there was a rabies threat, and recommended that rabies clinics were really not necessary. As time went on and more vet clinics opened up, the need for the MASH units lessened. They resisted closing down, and one unit even relocated on a couple of occasions just to stay in business."
The biggest difference of opinion in the clash between the veterinary societies and the MASH units had to do with definitions of "emergency." The veterinary definition ended with injuries and illnesses directly caused by the hurricane. Gruskin and Matlock insist litters of puppies and kittens born to wandering animals displaced by Andrew are also part of it. The FLDC spent over $35,000 on spaying or neutering more than 1,000 strays, most of whom wouldn't have been altered by anyone otherwise, who were subsequently put up for adoption. Cat fancy groups took some of the homeless cats to exhibitions, where many were adopted, while the dog clubs handled dog adoptions. "Spaying, neutering, and adoption are our main priorities now," Gruskin told ANIMAL PEOPLE in early November. To the veterinarians, that was business as usual. Even before the conflicts over what free care should include broke out, there was a serious misunderstanding over veterinary supplies. Acting independently of the AHA and American Hospital Association, and of the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, who staffed and supplied several MASH units, a number of veterinarians sent shipments of outdated medicines and manufacturers' samples. Much of the material was still good, but having no way to tell what was and wasn't, the MASH units discarded anything dubious. "We had to throw away two pallets of useless stuff," Matlock said. "Some of the stuff dated back to 1965." Bitter volunteers who did the sorting charged the contributing veterinarians with simply seeking a tax write-off (which they would not get in instances where no receipts were supplied by the recipient organizations, or in cases where the recipients were not tax-exempt). Inevitably the arrival of the outdated medicines was confused with the organized relief effort, and the coordinating groups got the blame for something they'd had nothing to do with.
Despite distribution difficulties, pet food was never really in short supply. The problem was finding out who needed donated food and then getting it there. FLDC team members passed out 21 tons of food donated by dog clubs from all over Florida on the first weekend after the storm, Gruskin said. Other food collection drives ended up as wasted effort.
"Talk about waste," White said, "there were more groups bringing more dog and cat food, treats, etcetera, only to end up dumping it because they made no effort to coordinate with anyone. Much of the food went to waste. The large pet food companies sent tons and tons of food, only to unload it where it would rot. Why? No storage space. AHA found storage space a block away from Dade County Animal Control; Broward County Humane Society found 10,000 square feet of space," and as ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press was still making food deliveries to disaster victims. "All the MASH units had to do was work within the system and they would have had all the free quality food they wanted plus water, leashes, and medical supplies. I worked with the Pet Food Institute," White continued, "and we agreed that their members would respond with assistance if I made a personal request for food. This was done to avoid more wasted product, about nine days after the hurricane struck."
There was also considerable confusion over who was responsible for which MASH unit. Rescuer Sharon Bailey told ANIMAL PEOPLE that some known "animal collectors," under investigation for keeping excessive numbers of dogs and cats already, used the storm as a pretext for taking in more--and for soliciting funds. "There were grassroots groups who simply did their own thing," White agreed. "Those of us at the command center found out about them in time. They all pretty much griped that the national groups didn't do enough and that they were the only ones helping animals. I took a drive by two of the grassroots MASH units," White said, "and saw dogs chained to fence posts out in the hot sun, panting away. Some had tarp shelters; many did not. I am not denouncing what they did," he added. "We all had our roles to play. I would have done it a little differently."
And then there were the appeals. "To my knowledge," White said, "only two other national groups played roles in Florida--the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and the Humane Society of the United States regional office in Tallahassee. When Brian Davies of IFAW arrived at the command center at Dade County Animal Control on August 31, he offered his communications equipment and the use of his helicopter to us. He also sent a staff member to help with the foster care program we were beginning to organize. Other than that, he told me personally that it looked as if AHA had things under control and to call him if we needed assistance. The HSUS crew appeared at the command center several days after our people arrived. They also helped a grassroots group set up a MASH unit [believed to be Matlock's]." But many other national groups issued fundraising appeals in connection with the disaster, some claiming to have helped at the scene, others claiming to be sending money and supplies. Regional, local, and special interest organizations also jumped into the picture. And some appeals were issued by grassroots groups on behalf of other groups, not always with authorization. In at least one instance that ANIMAL PEOPLE was able to verify, a grassroots group in another part of the U.S. asked that hurricane relief funds be sent to a national group that never claimed to have any involvement whatever. The group had helped with disaster relief after another hurricane, some years earlier.
"Groups popped out everywhere," White said. "Some I knew as legitimate, some I didn't know about. One of the grassroots groups' founders told me she made so much money from her appeal, she could buy out AHA twice."
At deadline, White was trying to organize a conference on the Hurricane Andrew aftermath, "to discuss various problems and what we can do to make things run smoother." The conference was tentatively scheduled for early March, and would probably be held in northern or central Florida. (Get an update from 303-792-9900.) "We should all recognize our limits in working such disasters," White concluded. "I plan on inviting not only national groups, but also local animal care and control agencies, the Red Cross, the Army Veterinary Corps, the Pet Food Institute, AVMA, AAHA, and others."
The ANIMAL PEOPLE investigation found dozens more unsung heroes than villains. While most of the MASH units focused on companion species, Miami veterinarians Richard Templeton and Deborah Marshall set up a horse MASH at the Tropical Park Horse Show Grounds, treating as many as 50 horses at a time. The plight of horses was no less severe than that of people and household pets. Homestead horse owner Marsha Schloesser told the horse health magazine Equus that "Probably half the barns [in the area] blew away or collapsed." Diane Albers, fired as director of the Humane Society of Seminole County at one point, won praise from several people who otherwise disagreed about nearly everything. "She was one of the individuals who started the MASH units and rescued, personally, over 500 dogs the day after the hurricane," White confirmed. Matlock asked ANIMAL PEOPLE to recognize Army veterinarian Col. Thelton "Mac" McCorcle, Miami-area veterinarian Perry Smith, Volusia veterinarian Paul Mattson, other vets she knew only as Bauman, Browning, and Sutherland, Martha Lentz of Orlando Humane, Laura Bevan of HSUS, and fellow volunteers Terry Crisp, Sue McLeod, Bill Lynch, and Shirley Minshew, who set up a rescue kennel in Macon, Georgia. Gruskin laughed that if she named people who deserved praise, she might accidentally miss someone among many and become unpopular.
Whether or not the many groups around the U.S. who pitched in to help were effective, they all got experience that should contribute to improving future relief efforts. For instance, unforeseen bureaucracy held up aid collected by the newly organized Greater Cleveland Animal Disaster Team. Taking up a collection right after Andrew hit, the group gathered 3,000 pounds of food and $5,600 in financial contributions, but wasn't allowed to cash donated checks until it received a federal tax identification number. That didn't come through until the first week of November. The red tape illustrated the need to be prepared, a point the group stresses in continuing preparation for when and if a disaster should strike northeastern Ohio.
"After several organizational meetings," founder Sue Gundich told ANIMAL PEOPLE, "we have begun to train volunteers, averaging 40 members per session. We are training members in all aspects of disasters," including "to handle domestic animals, wildlife, farm animals, exotic animals, and possibly zoo animals. While none of us anticipated the effort it would take," Gundich added, "we are proud to be among the first in the country to realize the need." Other groups interested in setting up disaster relief teams to assist animals may obtain the American Kennel Club's booklet Guidelines for Disaster Planning from the AKC headquarters, 51 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10010, and the Los Angeles Dept. of Animal Regulation's manual, Disaster Preparedness, c/o Room 1400, 419 South Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90013.
Relief aid collections
Organizations still collecting and dispatching relief for animal victims of Andrew include:
Affiliated Horse Organizations of Florida, c/o Equine Relief Fund, National Bank of Detroit, 1320 E. Venice Ave., Venice, FL 34292; telephone 813-484-0461 or 813-494-3465.
American Humane Association, 63 Inverness Drive East, Englewood, CO 80112-5117; telephone 303-792-9900.
Citizens Against Pet Overpopulation, 1300 N.W. 31st Ave., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33311.
Fort Lauderdale Dog Club Hurricane Andrew Fund, 13930 Luray Road, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33330.