Dogs in a river flood

How Do Animals Fare in the Aftermath of a Hurricane?

The recent barrage of hurricanes and tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean has left disaster in its wake in many areas. While many people have been displaced and left without shelter, transportation, or electricity, one group that can sometimes be overlooked in the aftermath of storms is animals. Pets and wildlife can easily be displaced as well, leaving them fighting for survival and searching for new habitats. Families can get separated from their pets or perhaps leave them behind in their rush to escape the destruction. But thanks to the help of animal rescue organizations and first responders, there are many encouraging stories of rescue and survival that go with each natural disaster that hits.

Progress Since 2005’s Hurricane Katrina

Each time a tropical storm, hurricane, or other natural disaster hits, we learn something new and devise new ways to prepare for the next one. While none of the works of Mother Nature can be prevented, there are steps that can be taken to lessen the impact on people and animals alike. Since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, we have come a long way in preparation and planned rescue efforts. As radar technology and weather prediction have improved over the years, so have the pre-storm planning strategies. Since we are now able to know with decent certainty when a storm will reach land and about how powerful it will be, we are able to have a plan in place to prevent animals from being harmed and rescue them after the damage is done.

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, it was estimated that 600,000 pets were displaced or killed due to the storm; 15,000 were rescued, but 90,000 were never found. Those numbers are pretty devastating. The New Orleans branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) did the best they could at the time, but thankfully everyone has learned many lessons in years since, from pet owners and emergency responders to animal rescue organizations. Organizations now join together and make proactive efforts to prevent animal death and displacement in the wake of storms. Oftentimes animal shelters will move the animals they already have out of their facilities in advance to make room for the ones that will be lost and displaced after the storm. For example, before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas just a few weeks ago, a shelter in Austin, TX began finding foster homes for their animals so that they could rescue shelter animals from the coast. The ASPCA also gathered supplies and moved animals to make room for ones they knew would be displaced, thus taking preemptive action that saved the lives of many pets.

Other Types of Animals Affected

While pets are the first that come to mind when people are evacuated during a storm, one must not forget about other kinds of animals that can be hurt, killed, or displaced as well. Herds of cattle and horses can easily be trapped or stranded; birds, pigs, and even bats and dolphins have been rescued from recent hurricanes as well. The larger animals such as cows and horses are probably the toughest to rescue, as they cannot be transported as easily; birds and bats, while resistant to help, can sense the impending storm and sometimes know to flee. In Cuba’s recent hurricane, six dolphins were transported by helicopter prior to Hurricane Irma’s landfall to prevent them from being hurt or displaced.

This doesn’t even take into account all the wild animals affected. Native wildlife are often displaced as well, but thankfully some species are resilient and can wait it out or survive in the aftermath. Many organizations and animal shelters take in wounded and injured wildlife, helping to nurse them back to health after the storms. These take time, patience, and funds. Donating to relief efforts and volunteering time always helps in the wake of a natural disaster, not only with the animals but it helps humans bond together and combine efforts to overcome the effects. Many rescue efforts are concentrated immediately after the disaster hits, but when emergency crews are gone and the effects of the storm have calmed, relief efforts are left up to the smaller local organizations, and they can always use help.

Organizations That Help

Many local and national organizations step up to help before and after storms and hurricanes, banding together to prevent animal loss and displacement. The collaborative efforts of these organizations have saved and continue to save the lives of many pets and wild animals. Future efforts will be even more concentrated as we as a society learn to work together and improve rescue planning and execution.

Some of the organizations that have stepped up to help are:

  • American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
  • The Humane Society of the United States
  • Best Friends Animal Society
  • Austin Pets Alive!
  • Wings of Rescue
  • South Florida Wildlife Center

That’s just to name a few in light of 2017’s recent hurricane season; each local area has many shelters, rescues, and even individuals or business owners who step up to help and foster, feed, or take animals in to avoid the destruction. In Miami, Florida, some shelters were open to both people and pets, which helped owners to keep track of their animals. While pets and owners can’t always stay together, this at least helps reduce the number of lost and displaced pets in the area.

Each natural disaster is devastating in its own way, in its own area. It’s easy to forget those who have been affected—humans and animals alike—after the storm has dissipated and it’s no longer the front-page news story. But there will always be another storm, another hurricane, another natural disaster; it’s important not to forget that relief efforts are ongoing, and for those whose lives are affected, it takes a while to pick up the pieces and try to return to normal. Rescue and rebuilding efforts take time and cooperation, so don’t forget to look into ways you can help today. People and animals need you, and they will thank you for it.

The Pegasus Foundation exists to protect and support animal welfare through grants and education, partnering with non-profit organizations to share resources, educate the public, and facilitate communication. For more information, please contact the Pegasus Foundation directly.