Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Hitting too close to home

Submitted by EARS volunteer Shari Neal of Marion, Iowa

I began my first EARS deployment in Cedar Rapids on my birthday, June 15. I have been training to help animals in disasters for two years from a variety of national animal welfare organizations. I trained, and I waited for a disaster to happen…to someone else's town, probably in a different state. I was prepared to drive in and help care for animal victims so their families could have peace of mind about at least that one thing. I would return home knowing I had done something important for this devastated community.

When the rain refused to stop in Linn and other Iowa counties, the water rose fast in creeks and rivers. With the ground still saturated from enormous amounts of snow melt, there was no place for the water to go. So it filled homes, covered even the railings of bridges crossing the Cedar River, surrounded then consumed the city's animal shelter, then made its way downtown until 1,300 city blocks had been covered in debris-laden flood water. That is when I got the call I had been waiting for…finally I would be able to use my training. I was thrilled to be involved and crushed to know the disaster to which I would deploy was just a short drive downhill from my home.

Two hours after I got the call I was on site. I brought only my cameras, a bandana and my EARS badge. After six days averaging 11 hours of work each, I've used that bandana for mopping up sweat, rubbing barn dust out of my eyes, wiping the perspiration from cold bottles of water, and cleaning my lenses. I've proudly worn my badge every minute, and taken more than 2,000 photographs. (A few of them are displayed on this post)

I've also been lucky enough to photograph the animals for identification purposes. I've seen the look on a person's face when they recognize their missing animal from a photo I took. They look thrilled but in a way that is riddled with fear. They are simply too afraid to hope that after all of this time, all of the worry and tears, that they may have actually found the last missing member of their family. Sometimes it turns out to be an animal that simply looks like their animal but many times, I have witnessed a broken heart mend right before my very eyes.

I've also witnessed hope in the strangest places. One woman comes to the shelter every day to spend time with her dogs. She is there so much she is forging friendships with volunteers. She casually remarked yesterday that she had just taken a shower! She was elated to have had a shower as she explained in a cheerful voice, "Because I'm living in my car!" Still, there she was, with a smile from ear to ear because she was at the shelter to play with her dogs.

My full-time deployment has come to an end, but I will continue to work at the shelter several hours a day until they no longer need volunteers. I can see that the other volunteers hurt when they have to go home at the end of their deployment feeling as though they are leaving something unfinished.

I am trading the uneasy feeling of going home before seeing the emergency shelter through to the end for the uneasy feeling of watching my neighbors struggle to find places to live, witnessing the end of many local businesses, the demolition of the heart of the city and helping find homes for loved animals who can no longer be cared for by their heartbroken and homeless families. This is one disaster I wish I could go home from…but alas, I am home.

All photos this post courtesy Shari Neal.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The look that keeps you coming back...

Submitted by EARS Regional Director Karla Schulte (Region VII)

I just returned home from Cedar Rapids. This deployment is like the others that I've been on in many ways, but it is also very different. I've been on two previous deployments as an EARS volunteer. This time I deployed as EARS leadership. That definitely made this deployment different, and to be quite honest, it was more than a little scary for me at first.

I spent the first few days shadowing Diann Wellman and getting to know the facility, the volunteers, and the other organizations involved in the effort. Then I worked with other EARS volunteers to create a process for reclamation of pets, with the help of other organizations. What a rewarding experience. On Friday, we helped to reunite approximately 50 pets and their owners. On Sunday the number dropped to about half that amount. This is something that I have not been able to experience on other deployments. Every reunification that I witnessed made me more and more grateful that I was able to contribute to the process.

Yesterday, after we closed the reclaim area, I helped in the shelter area. I had an opportunity to spend a little time with a few of the animals. Every time I've deployed, I connected with a few special dogs. This time was no different. As I was petting one of the dogs who I was particularly fond of because he looked like my dog Hank, I looked in his eyes and saw that familiar look that I've seen in the eyes of so many other animals when I've deployed. The look that keeps you coming back. The look that puts a tear in your eye and a paw print on your heart. I've read Dawn's blog entries and I know she knows what I'm talking about and I suspect all EARS volunteers understand the feelings that I felt at that moment. I cried for about 15 minutes as I made a final sweep of the shelter floor overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment.

I met so many new friends during this deployment. This is definitely an experience that creates bonds. I know that I will see many of the other volunteers I worked with on future deployments and I can't wait. What a wonderful group of selfless, generous, good hearted people.

Every EARS volunteer will tell you that they deploy for the animals. I definitely agree with that. Knowing that you are giving these animals another chance and maybe a little more time to find a forever home is a good feeling. But this time I received an extra bonus. I got to witness the love and emotion of the animals and their owners when they were reunited. What an unforgettable experience.

Photos courtesy Shari Neal and Stephen Malley.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Posted by Alexis Raymond, UAN Director of Communications

Today our amazing EARS volunteers reunited 25 pets with their owners!

There were a lot of smiles and tears in the reclaim area at the temporary shelter in Cedar Rapids, Iowa as families who had been displaced by the flooding and separated from their pets could finally come to bring them home.

Here are a few pictures of some of the famililes, made whole again.

Photos courtesy Stephen Malley.

An EARS volunteer to the rescue

Submitted by first-time EARS responder Dawn Frary, now back home in Iowa City.

When I went to Cedar Rapids this week I was fortunate enough to be deployed with Heather Sanderson (pictured), who is one of my best friends in the world. It's hard for "outsiders" to fully understand the impact of a deployment, so being there with her and knowing that we would share the experience made the deployment easier to cope with. Likewise, having the opportunity to talk to her afterward and knowing that she understands what I went through has made returning home a much easier transition. Sharing this experience with Heather has only made our friendship stronger.

Heather had a unique opportunity to travel into the field with the Humane Society of the United States' (HSUS) field rescue team, which I am told is a rare occurrence for an EARS volunteer. (As did EARS volunteer Janet Hoover of Wisconsin, pictured here). Heather was part of an incredible rescue operation involving two cats whose lives were saved by the combined efforts of EARS volunteers and the HSUS crew. She shared her story with me below.


One of my assignments volunteering for EARS was traveling into the flooded areas of downtown Cedar Rapids and working with the HSUS field rescue team. The HSUS team, along with Cedar Rapids Fire and Rescue, would go out into the field on calls for animals that needed to be rescued. Once the animals were rescued, HSUS would bring them back to the command center where my fellow EARS volunteers and I would complete the intake process. The animals were then placed in the impressive air conditioned shelter on site. Once we had enough animals, volunteers from Kirkwood Comunity College would come to the command center to pick up the animals to be taken to be assessed by the veterinarians.

If the animals were in serious condition, then they were transported to Kirkwood right away either by HSUS or the EARS volunteers. I was completely amazed by the work of the HSUS field rescue team. They often put their lives in danger to save animals and I have complete respect for that.

EARS regional director Diann Wellman recommended that I go out in the field with the HSUS rescue team. At first, I had thought that they needed someone to do intake which was my job the previous day, but I soon found out that I would be participating in actual actual rescues. I was thrilled! As we were driving to the first rescue, I chatted with the team -- Scotlund, Alan (pictured with me) and Chris -- about their experiences as field rescuers.

On the first rescue we managed to capture two cats that were in generally good condition in spite of the experience that they must have gone though. Scotlund and Chris captured the cats and I transported them down to the vehicle. We then went to another house that had a call in but did not find any animals. The last house we arrived at, I noticed a paper with an "X" on the door, I remembered seeing those on houses after the Katrina disaster. Alan explained to me that the "X" is used after an inspection to tell the date that it was inspected and how many people were found inside along with other information. As we approached the house I noticed that the paper stated "0" lives were found inside but that there were two cats. Are cats not living beings also? I also wondered why the inspectors did not notify someone sooner that there were two cats inside.

HSUS had a call-in sheet that stated there was one cat inside. We entered the house and I could not believe the destruction. The floors and walls were still wet and muddy from the receding water and the smell was unbelievable. Scotlund and Chris headed up the stairs with me following and Alan waiting at the bottom of the stairs. Scotlund discovered a cat who was in poor shape as he had been left without food or water for at least a week. He placed the cat in a carrier, which I quickly transported to the vehicle. My adrenaline was pumping. As I set the cat in the vehicle, Alan yelled out that they found a second cat. I grabbed another carrier out of the truck and ran it up to the house as fast as I could. After the second cat was in the truck, the race was on back to Kirkwood to get these cats urgent care.

As we sped through town, Chris called ahead to notify the vets of the situation so they could prepare for our arrival. When we arrived at Kirkwood we rushed the cats to the clinic where we were met by the veterinary staff. The vet assessed the animals while I did the intakes. The two brave cats -- who had been on the verge of death -- survived. In a small way, I had assisted the HSUS field rescue team in saving a total of four cats' lives. That's a huge honor for me and I have nothing but the highest respect for the HSUS field rescue team and the work that they do. I'm glad I got to be a part of that for a day, it's an experience that I'll never forget.

Photos courtesy Dawn Frary, Stephen Malley and Scotlund Haisley/HSUS.

A bittersweet homecoming

Submitted by first-time EARS responder Dawn Frary of Iowa City (pictured at top)

It's Thursday, June 19, and today was my final day of deployment with UAN's Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS). It began like any other day this week with dog walking and cage cleaning, and the weather was beautiful. I walked several dogs this morning, many of whom I hadn't had the opportunity to work with before. I enjoyed interacting with as many dogs as I could -- I have three cats of my own at home so it was fun to play with dogs. So many of them are loving, gentle animals, and it broke my heart to tell them goodbye today. However, I plan on returning to Cedar Rapids next week since I live in a town only about 30 miles away in Iowa City -- I can't stay away knowing how much work still needs to be done at the shelter, even if my "official" deployment has ended.

Even though it was physically and emotionally difficult to be at the shelter, I think it was even more difficult to leave. As I said, there is still so much work that needs to be done and so many animals still there that need to be cared for. When I arrived at my front door today I burst into tears at the sight of my own cats, who I hadn't seen for four days. As I petted them, I couldn't help but feel the impact of all that I'd been through in the past several days and realize how unfair it was that so many people and animals are still displaced from their homes -- and that a lot of them don't even have homes to go to anymore.

While you are there in the thick of it, working 12-hour days and running in two directions at once, you don't have time to actually process what you are seeing and doing. Being removed from the situation in Cedar Rapids really made me take everything into perspective and I was able to realize what a wonderful and heroic operation I had been a part of.

I am proud of my involvement with EARS and will cherish the memory of this experience. I will take pride in knowing that I made a difference in the lives of hundreds of animals who were saved because of the dedicated volunteers and rescue crews I was fortunate enough to work with. Deploying with EARS was certainly one of the hardest things I've ever done, but also the most rewarding expereince of my life.

Photos courtesy Dawn Frary and Shari Neal.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The true meaning of "home"

Submitted by first-time EARS responder Dawn Frary of Iowa City

Wednesday began bright and early, as most mornings do, and after organizing ourselves the night before, most of us EARS volunteers were on dog-walking duty at 8 a.m. Volunteers from the community continued to show up today and lend a hand wherever they were needed -- whether that was walking dogs, cleaning cages, or escorting people who came to visit or pick up their pets.

The morning was rather quiet after the dog-walking was over, so most EARS volunteers pitched in and helped out where they could -- animal intake, various cleaning duties, escorting visitors. I helped one of my fellow EARS volunteers/photographers wrangle dogs for "mug shots," which was fun because it allowed me to interact with dogs I hadn't gotten to spend much time with before. Most of them are thankful for and accepting of attention because they are incredibly stressed out and frightened by both their experience and being away from their families. Knowing that a dog was able to relax and have fun for even just a few minutes because of me makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Various community organizations showed up to donate food just like they did yesterday, and people from the community continued to show up with donations of all kinds. Several eager volunteers showed up at the dog facility to help walk dogs this afternoon, which is actually a bigger job than some people might realize so we were very happy to have all the help we could get. Most of my day was spent talking with and photographing people who had been reunited with their pets -- getting their story of the evacuation, the rescue, and, unfortunately, the destruction.

Even though several peoples' homes were not in a condition to which they could return right away, I could see in their eyes that they were holding the most important part of their home in their arms.

Photos courtesy Dawn Frary and Shari Neal.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A flood ... of animals

Submitted by first-time EARS responder Dawn Frary of Iowa City

The flood waters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, have finally begun to recede, but UAN's Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) work has only just begun. As a new member of EARS and first-time disaster responder, I didn't know what to expect coming into the situation. When I arrived on the afternoon of Monday, June 16, I was told that 400 to 500 animals were being housed in the temporary shelter set up on the Kirkwood Community College campus.

Most of that first day was spent assembling crates and cages for the animals we knew would be arriving either later that day or the following day. Tuesday saw some volunteers walking dogs and cleaning their cages, while others attended to the cats and other animals who have been received by the shelter. All the while, people were showing up to both drop off pets they had found and rescued, or to reclaim pets from whom they had been separated. Tuesday was the first day the temporary shelter was open to the public to reclaim their pets, and to witness people being reunited with their pets after several days -- some of whom didn't know if their pets had survived the disaster or not -- is what our work here is all about.

Several truckloads of donations from various charities, including PetSmart Charities, had arrived before I did; among the supplies we received were cat and dog food, crates and beds. Members of the community also turned out to donate items, and their response was nearly overwhelming. People showed up with newspapers to be shredded and used as bedding, towels, blankets, pillows, cat and dog food, and pet shampoo. Churches and community organizations also donated meals, snacks and drinks for the volunteers -- tables seemed to always be stocked with food for those of us working long, hard days. EARS volunteers were generously given accommodations in the Kirkwood gymnasium, complete with cots donated by the American Red Cross.

After a good night's sleep, we'll all start tomorrow bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to lend a hand to the animals who need us!

Photos courtesy Shari Neal and Stephen Malley.

When it rains it pours

When it rains it pours. It may sound trite, but when it comes to natural disasters that affect animals, it is true. Barely 24 hours after deploying our Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) volunteers to care for the animal victims of the Humboldt Fire in Butte County, California, the call for help came again.

On Saturday, June 14, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Services asked UAN to send EARS volunteers to care for the hundreds of animals being displaced by record flooding in Cedar Rapids.

Within 24 hours, we had dozens of trained volunteers on the road to Cedar Rapids, where the devastating flooding has forced more than 24,000 people to evacuate, contaminated the public water supply, and left countless animals stranded on rooftops and elsewhere.

UAN's EARS volunteers are caring for animals at a temporary shelter as they are being rescued from the flood. We expect to be on the ground for two weeks, giving the animals the care they need until they can be reunited with their families.

Photos courtesy Dawn Frary and Shari Neal.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Responding to the Humboldt Fire

On Wednesday, June 11, a wildfire ignited in Butte County, California. Later to be known as the Humboldt Fire, it soon began threatening the city of Paradise, prompting thousands of people to evacuate. The next day, the North Valley Animal Disaster Group (NVADG) asked UAN to send volunteers with its Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) to help shelter approximately 200 dogs and cats rescued from behind the fire lines or evacuated by their families.

EARS volunteers quickly deployed from across Northern California to care for these beloved pets. Despite 100-degree temperatures and smoke from the nearby fire making breathing difficult, our EARS volunteers worked hard to care for these displaced animals until they could be reunited with their families.

On Sunday, June 15, with the fire 45 percent contained and most of the animals reclaimed, our EARS volunteers closed the shelter and returned home, tired, hot and dirty -- but glad they were able to help the animals and families displaced by the crisis.

See more photos from our Humboldt Fire response below.

EARS volunteer extraordinaire Jamie Peters took charge of the "cat house."


Keeping the cat house cool in 100-degree+ heat was a challenge.

How many kitties can you find in this photo?

A view of the smoke from the emergency animal shelter

EARS volunteers came prepared to "rough it." At night, they pitched tents near the shelter and got a few precious hours of rest.

This is what makes all the hard work worthwhile. EARS volunteer Tara Goddard reuniting a dog with his family.