Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Reflections on the Hurricane Ike deployment

Submitted by EARS Regional Director Karla Schulte of Shawnee, Kansas (pictured below), after spending a week in Beaumont, Texas helping animal victims of Hurricane Ike

I just arrived home and decided to blog a bit before I go to bed. I’ve said before that no two deployments are alike and Beaumont is no exception to that rule. The initial team of five Emergency Animal rescue Service (EARS) volunteers got into Beaumont a week ago. The job definitely seemed more than a little overwhelming at first. The days all seem to run together when you are deployment, but to the best of my recollection, here is what the week looked like.

Day 1, Thursday, September 18: I arrived in Houston in the morning. The drive from Houston to Beaumont took a while because there was no electricity, which means no traffic lights. I arrived at the shelter mid-day. Four more EARS volunteers arrived later that afternoon and evening. The animal count at that time was approximately 250 and growing. It consisted of approximately 173 dogs, 66 cats, 2 swans, a horse, a group of guinea pigs and 2 ferrets. The shelter’s normal capacity is around 125. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) was conducting rescues so an intake station and vet station were set up in the parking lot. The facility consists of a spay/neuter clinic in one building and the shelter in another building. Both buildings were bulging at the seams with animals and there were also cages placed on a covered area on the side of the building. We worked until dark, which became the standard practice as the week went on. There were no restaurants open, a handful of grocery stores open that allowed access to a few people at a time, and we had a 6 p.m. curfew to comply with. Meals and lodging the first night were basically non-existent. Some people elected to sleep in the animal shelter on the floor. Others stayed in their cars. We didn’t have time to pitch tents. There was a shower (ha, ha -- it was a garden hose thrown over a kennel with a blanket clipped to the door for privacy).

Day 2, Friday, September 19: We started bright and early in the morning. We had a couple more EARS volunteers come in during the day, but the work was still massive. We implemented the daily care logs that we have used in other deployments to help us track the feeding, walking and cleaning.

Day 3, Saturday, September 20: The weekend was busy with intakes and implementing EARS processes. The EARS volunteers were terrific! We had a team of people with diverse skill sets, which allowed us to divide tasks and attack the problem areas. One volunteer partnered with the staff vet to create a process to identify health problems and communicate them in a timely manner to the vet. We also undertook a major cleaning effort, which involved emptying out one room of approximately 30 dogs, then scrubbing and disinfecting the floor and walls. Unfortunately, despite our efforts, one dog tested positive for parvovirus, although he showed no symptoms. We were concerned that the test could be reading a false positive because the parvo vaccine was administered two days previously. UAN agreed to pay vet bill through the LifeLine Grant program, and we transferred the dog to Dowlen Vet Clinic to be monitored. We were able to reach out to a group called the Southern Baptist Convention, which started delivering lunches and dinners.

Day 4, Sunday, September 21: By Sunday we had 12 EARS volunteers with others arriving later in the day. There was a small shelter crew helping, but for the most part, the shelter staff had been given a week off to deal with their own personal losses. The animal count had increased to approximately 280 by that time. HSUS was no longer doing rescues, but we continued to intake a large number of animals. We speculated it was due to downed fences. Thanks to local volunteers we were able to keep our heads above water, although it still required we walk dogs after dark with flashlights. The Southern Baptist Convention was also able to work with a local church to get us one room for volunteers to sleep in and allowed us to all shower in their shower trailers each night.

Day 5, Monday, September 22: The processes that we put into place were finally beginning to pay off. We had gotten into a routine, but with only a few shelter staff, we had taken on even more duties. Again the local volunteers pulled us through with 19 people from the community volunteering. We maintained our number of EARS volunteers at 12. We were actually beginning to feel pretty good about things overall. BIG MISTAKE! It is always dangerous to begin to think you have things under control. We not only discovered that the shelter needed to transfer the animals out by September 27, but the disaster animal inventory database was inadvertently deleted and had to be recreated. UGH! By the way, little parvo pup still was not showing signs of parvo.

Day 6, Tuesday, September 23: The word was beginning to get out about the September 27 deadline. This generated a lot of activity at the shelter. We had 28 animals returned to their owners. It was not only great to see animals and owners reunite, but it also meant fewer cages to clean. YIPPEE! HSUS arrived on Wednesday to help the shelter staff create a plan for transferring animals out after the September 27 deadline. We had 14 EARS volunteers, but the local support was beginning to wane. The database was completed by a very persistent EARS volunteer. We were now able to determine that we had approximately 325 animals processed through the shelter after Ike. We also heard from Dowlen Vet Clinic that the parvo puppy did not have parvo and could be picked up. This news made my deployment. My replacement, Janell Matthies, arrived from California that evening.

Day 7, Wednesday, September 23: I picked up the parvo puppy first thing this morning. He will be shipped out with one of the EARS volunteers and her shelter will help find him a home. She will keep us updated on his adopted family.

Overall, this was a very difficult deployment, but a good one for me because I witnessed the most amazing commitment among our volunteers. They were working through lunches and walking dogs in the dark to make sure every dog was cared for. They were also sensitive to the shelter staff and worked closely with them to improve their skills. Many animals were labeled “aggressive,” but trained EARS volunteers were able to work with the animals to calm them.

There were a lot of great reunifications that we were able to experience over the past few days, but I think the best story is about our EARS volunteers. This was a group effort and every volunteer’s contribution was critical to the success of this deployment. It was the best team effort I’ve been a part of. One volunteer said he was having flashbacks to when he was in the military. I think that is a probably a pretty good analogy. When I left I felt like I had fought more than a few battles. Maybe we lost a few, but we definitely have a winning record. I feel so blessed to have had an opportunity to be a part of this effort with these amazing volunteers. Kudos to all!

My first deployment

Submitted by EARS volunteer Jennifer Muller of Houston (pictured below), about her recent deployment to help animals affected by Hurricane Ike, Beaumont, Texas

I intended to write this much sooner -- it is amazing how quickly your day-to-day life takes over the moment you return home from a deployment!

The morning after Hurricane Ike swept across our region, I realized that EARS would likely be called in to help. Once the flood waters began to subside, I walked through the neighborhood with my parents to survey the damage. What a mess. Huge trees were uprooted, some of which had unfortunately landed directly on homes. Several trees were now blocking major streets in our area and there wasn't a functioning street light to be found. People began to appear outside of their homes to clean up the debris that Ike left behind. Most of us were now without power and/or water.

The night before Ike made landfall, I packed up my pets, left my home and drove to my parents' house, which is also in Houston. The media had indicated that evacuation wasn't necessary for our area, so we decided to wait out the storm together...pets and all!

Two days after Ike's arrival, my blackberry began to receive e-mails again, one of which was from United Animal Nations (UAN) asking if I would be able to deploy with the Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) to Beaumont, Texas in an effort to help Ike evacuees and their pets. I spent two weekends in Beaumont and traveled home to Houston during the work week to keep up with my job responsibilites as an intellectual property paralegal.

I'll never forget my first day at the shelter. I remember so vividly hearing and seeing so many dogs and cats (and two swans??? I must admit that I never expected to see swans at this deployment!) waiting as patiently as possible for their turn to be cared for. I immediately felt overwhelmed by the sights and sounds, but luckly, EARS Regional Director Karla Schulte was there to greet me and help me to understand the process that was already underway. After a brief discussion with Karla, I was ready to get to work cleaning cages, walking dogs, etc. The animals were clearly appreciative of their time with the volunteers. It really was an amazing feeling to realize how much of a difference the volunteers were making in the daily lives of these animals.

My advice for new volunteers going on their first deployment? No matter how prepared you may be for your trip, know that the unexpected can and likely will happen! Pack some ear plugs in case you are in a room working with a lot of barking dogs. Oh, and bring an eye mask to help you sleep ... just in case you happen to be sleeping on the floor of a church gymnasium with its lights still on one evening!

I met and worked with some amazing people and animals in Beaumont. I can honestly say that volunteering with EARS was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and while I will never hope for another disaster such as Ike, I sincerely hope that I am invited to volunteer should disaster strike again.

Photos this post courtesy Jennifer Muller.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A bittersweet goodbye

Submitted by Marcel Marcotte, EARS Eastern Canada Regional Director, of Nova Scotia, Canada

It's the beginning of our last day here in Montreal. The folks from the CSPCA invited us to take part in a thank-you dinner last evening. It was bittersweet for a lot of our volunteers, knowing we made such a tremendous difference to all the animals involved in the two seizures, but still knowing that most of them still didn't have a forever home to go to. I struggled with this in Portland last year and I'm sure I'll have the same feelings today when I get on the plane to go home.

I will take this back to Nova Scotia with me though: We did make a huge difference to the lives of all the dogs rescued. I was completely overwhelmed by the care and compassion each and every one of my “red shirts” displayed to these puppy mill dogs in our care. I cannot tell you how proud I am to be a member of UAN, and to be associated with those who gave up time with their families and pets for these animals.

The UAN volunteers deserve a huge thank you from everyone. Because of our response they are seriously reviewing the puppy mill laws in Quebec. Alanna Divine, the CSPCA shelter president, spoke to us regarding the changes coming that will add additional enforcement powers regarding seized animals and when they are implemented they will make a huge difference in the outcomes for the animals involved.

To my "yellow tape team,” Carol, Tracie, Brenda, Milinda and Leslee thank you so much for taking on the leadership roles you had placed upon you. The way you worked with the animals and volunteers was amazing! To Leslee, who took on the role of Team Leader in the Agility Room, where most of the dogs and volunteers were gathered, you were magnificent, exhibiting patience and grace under fire. Always smiling, even when you were stressed. To all of my other fantastic volunteers, again I want to thank you for coming here to Montreal and making such a big difference to the lives of these animals!

I've been with UAN for less than 18 months and this was my third and fourth puppy mill event, having been to seizures in Parkersburg, West Virginia in August and Portland, Maine last year. Each one has it's own special place in my heart, but simply because of the large turnout of UAN volunteers, this one is my favorite so far. Safe trips home to each of you, and to my American friends, keep the Canadian funny money -- I may be calling for your help again sooner rather than later.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

From bad to good

Submitted by EARS volunteer Carol Hedlund of Bainbridge, New York

One of our "bad boys" happened to be a German Shepherd. His coat was horrific and unhealthy, which of course led to skin issues. So he had to be shaved down. The groomers brought in by the Montreal SPCA were amazing -- the pictures tell some of the story.

We have a few black dogs whose breed was a challenge to figure out. It was incredible to watch the transformation of matted fur into true standard poodles. It was frightening to think that dozens of dedicated animal welfare people were unable to figure out what breed they really were because of their condition. Each one, once shaved down, obviously felt better and looked like a poodle.

One of the most moving moments for me was involved one of these standard poodles who was one of our "bad boys." On Wednesday when he first arrived from the second puppy mill seizure, he was terrified and would growl at anyone and anything. It took many pieces of hot dog to coax him slowly out of his crate. Today he came willingly out of his crate (no need for hot dog bribes), put his paw up on my leg and wagged his tail.

The end of a deployment is always an emotional time for everyone. Tonight we all joined together at the temporary shelter for the last time. Lots of food, laughs and tears. We all recognize the week that we've spent here is only the beginning for these dogs. The rest of their lives are guaranteed to be so much better than what they were forced to endure for the first days, months or years that have passed since their birth. Their appalling and gruesome living conditions are history.

It feels really good to know you made a difference and though saying good-bye is hard, I know we are leaving them in good hands to have amazing and happy lives.

Zipping along

Submitted by EARS volunteer Carol Hedlund of Bainbridge, New York

Our Saturday is much more crowded with local volunteers and some folks who will be back after we leave tomorrow. It was a great help and some of them were absolutely amazing. "Our guys" will be in good hands.

We have more veterinary help today and many of the dogs are now getting some medical attention that wasn't possible before. One of our Mastiffs had a wound on the tip of his tail and unfortunately began chewing on it. Looks like he'll need surgery to have some removed; he's not too pleased with his e-collar at the moment, but he's still a happy boy.

A gentleman named John showed up with zip ties and was promptly hugged by many of us (luckily we didn't scare him too much). A lot of our big dogs are escaping from their crates so they're getting "zipped in." One of our Great Danes had herself a picnic on a bag of food last night after escaping from her kennel. Luckily she's not bloating but we're watching her closely. One of our Bernese mountain dogs was discovered to have mites and lice, so he'll be looked after as well. ALL of the minor (though in normal life it might not seem normal) medical issues are being thoroughly addressed by the CSPCA.

The most amazing thing to watch is that our "bad boy" row is really coming around. Their tension level is dropping and they are more under control and a bit easier to handle. We had a scare yesterday afternoon with one of the little pups, only a few weeks old. Her belly started bloating and she didn't look well. Luckily a vet was in the building and took quick care of her.

Break's over, more later!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Dogs and puppies everywhere

Submitted by EARS volunteer Carol Hedlund of Bainbridge, New York

Our week in Canada has definitely been a whirlwind. It's now Friday and we have just one full day left before we all have to leave our puppy mill dogs in the hands of the Montreal SPCA staff and volunteers. The future for so many of these hundreds of dogs is already being lined up by the SPCA's amazing staff person Jenn. She, with the help of many others, is constantly on the phone making arrangements for foster care with eventual adoption. There is a good chance that we'll be able to find new forever homes for them in the states.

The facility we're in used to be a training center for the SPCA. The "agility room," which is the largest room, is stacked and packed with crates with dogs from the second seizure. Then we have the "puppy room" with pups and now we've added adult dogs from seizure #1; the "side room" with dogs from seizure one; and the "big dog room," "big dog room 2" and the "bad boy room" with another row of "big dogs who aren't bad boys" -- all from seizure #2. And there is yet another room, the "nursery" with pups and moms with pups from seizure #2. And we can't forget the cats! Luckily the cats from seizure #1 were able to move over to the SPCA today, leaving behind the one cat from seizure #2. It's incredible to think how everyone has come together to deal with such a large number of dogs on top of the need to keep their care/needs separated. None of the dogs from the two different puppy mills are housed or cared for together. Wow, that's a lot to worry about! But we're doing it. And well.

When I compare the puppy mill experience to another type of disaster response, I don't feel like there is a big difference in the day-to-day work. The work is hard, you sweat a lot, you're exhausted, you have a purpose. The biggest difference is that I'm not sleeping in my car or a tent, or using a port-a-potty. We're in a hotel! AND the hotel has a starbucks. Wow.

UAN crosses U.S. border to help puppy mill dogs

On September 28, a team of United Animal Nations’ Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) volunteers began working with Humane Society International/Canada and the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (CSPCA) to care for 118 animals rescued from a puppy mill in Rawdon, Quebec.

Several days later, on October 1, four EARS volunteers accompanied HSI/Canada and CSPCA rescuers into a second puppy mill, removing more than 150 animals. The rescued dogs were promptly transported to the CSPCA emergency shelter where they will be checked by a team of veterinarians and given any necessary medical care.

When the CSPCA/HSI Canada rescue team arrived on the scene of the first puppy mill, the smell of ammonia made it difficult to breathe and almost overpowered them. In one of the rooms, music was playing at unbearably loud levels to drown out the noise of the dogs’ desperate barking. Many of the animals were housed in the dark basement. Ninety percent of the dogs were emaciated, with open sores and parasites, stacked in wire cages from floor to ceiling, some hidden behind closet doors in a house of horrors. Some of the cages even held the skeletons of dogs who had passed away weeks or months before, but had been left untouched.

"Though they have faced unthinkable cruelty for years, these resilient animals are already beginning to heal immensely under our care," said Marcel Marcotte, EARS Eastern Canada Regional Director. "Many of these animals had never before set foot on solid ground or been touched by a gentle human hand. It is so rewarding to be able to nurse them back to health."

Please support the Emergency Animal Rescue Service team in Montreal by making a donation to UAN’s Disaster Relief Fund.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Swan song

Submitted by EARS Regional Director Stacey Harris

Well, it is our last day here. Everyone, animals and volunteers is leaving today.

The day started with the newly trained staff taking out and feeding the animals. Julie and Phil's training paid off, all the animals were quickly taken care of. About 11:00, Houston Humane Society pulled in, and we all went to work. Once all the animals were loaded, we only had one more transport to complete.

Mary with The Humane Society of the United States was taking about 13 animals to Operation Kindness. So, one more van to load! We quickly got Mary's van loaded and she pulled away.

Next it was my turn to watch all the volunteers leave. It was kind of sad. You spend a short time with everyone, but you meet people you will never forget! You feel like you've been friends for a long time already.

After everyone left, I decided to take one more walk through the shelter. It was a very good, but strange feeling. When I arrived just a few days ago, we had a room full of cats, a quarantine room, a puppy room, the big dog room, the zen dog room, and two outside patios filled with dogs. When I walked through this afternoon, there was nothing but empty kennels, two clean patios and an empty zen room. I am very proud of what we accomplished!!

As I was walking to my car to leave, I noticed the owner of the swans was back to load them up and drive away. It actually went much smoother than I anticipated. I wasn't really sure how you were supposed to load swans, but the owner stepped in and took care of it. After the swans left the property, I felt like my job was done, so I got in my car and headed home.

Puzzling over pit bulls

Yesterday we had another amazing day in Beaumont!! We got word late the previous night that the pit bull rescue group was coming earlier than expected. Not a problem for our group of EARS volunteers here: They were up and going at about 6:00 am to get these guys ready. The rescue group had told us that they only had room for 11 dogs.

Well, our puzzle-making team and Julie and Phil were determined that they could fit more than 11 dogs in that cargo van, and boy were they right. You should have seen Phil in the back of that van surrounded by crates, hauling dogs over the other crates and getting them all set up and ready for transport. Also, I never knew that puppy pee pads made good window shades. The volunteers were concerned that the animals would get too much sun through the windows, so we covered them with pee pads. It was pretty funny. 

By the time the van left, headed to Little Rock, Arkansas, they had 16 pit bulls and 1 chocolate Lab. Not really sure how we convinced them the Lab was a pit! Just kidding ... apparently they had some connections with a Lab rescue group was well.

Another really good thing happened. Anne, the shelter president, asked Julie and Phil if they could speak to the employees and train them on the cleaning and feeding process that they have been using. Julie and Phil reported back that the employees were pretty excited about implementing the new process.