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When Hurricane Floyd ripped through North Carolina in September 1999, residents who evacuated their homes left behind family heirlooms, jewelry, cars and hundreds of pets.
Left on their own, many of these animals would have drowned or starved. But trained volunteers with the Emergency Animal Rescue Service (EARS) saved more than 700 animals, and reunited many with their owners after danger had passed.
Human evacuation shelters do not allow animals, explains Terri Crisp, EARS director. EARS is the only program of its type in the U.S. where volunteers have responded to rescue animals after fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes. It receives no government money; instead, its funded entirely by donations. The same kinds of things that can happen to people can happen to animals, too, Crisp says.
EARS is part of United Animal Nations (UAN), a nonprofit organization in Sacramento, California, founded in 1987 to protect animals in danger or in need. Almost immediately after its inception, UAN realized the need for a comprehensive program to rescue and care for animals, especially pets, during natural and man-made disasters.
Crisp saw the problem firsthand after her community experienced a flood. She approached UAN about helping to establish a plan for rescuing animals during disasters. She has helped with 54 disasters and has been the director of EARS since 1993.
EARS has more than 4,000 volunteers across the country who have received training during a daylong workshop. Those within driving distance are asked to respond to disasters within the first 24 hours. Among the tasks assigned to EARS volunteers are evacuating animals before a disaster (if possible), rescuing them after the disaster has occurred, setting up temporary animal shelters, distributing animal food and supplies and coordinating medical care for sick or injured animals. In fact, EARS has been called the Red Cross for animals.
Since 1994, EARS has offered disaster preparedness workshops to create awareness and encourage participants to be better prepared should disaster strike their area. None of us are exempt from being disaster victims, Crisp says. We all have to be ready. The recent events have brought that home.
About 90 percent of those who attend EARS workshops decide to volunteer. Crisp says
the volunteers span a wide range of ages, backgrounds and occupations. EARS offers
volunteers the chance to do something new and make a difference, she says. Nineteen
workshops around the U.S. are slated for 2002.
Ann Plamondon of Virginia, for example, has been an EARS volunteer since November 1997. One of her tasks with EARS is coordinating the organizations logistics during a disaster. This volunteer work was the reason I selected my Subaru Legacy Outback when I was shopping for a new car in 1998, she says. It has not let me down!
Crisp estimates EARS volunteers have rescued nearly 10,000 animals since 1988. She says about 40 percent of the animals left behind in disasters are claimed by their owners. After an appropriate period, EARS puts the other animals up for adoption.
EARS encourages pet owners to keep a disaster kit at home and in the car. Items include a leash and collar, basic first aid supplies (ask your veterinarian for specifics), muzzles and phone numbers for animal control and animal shelters. Make sure your pets have proper identification so you can be contacted if they are lost. Crisp says its also important to plan where you could take your pets in case a disaster occurs.
Theyre living creatures, Crisp reminds us. Weve domesticated them and we have an obligation to them. They cant open doors and windows to escape. They need people.