Reis is American Humane’s program manager, and a member of Animal Relief Coalition for Haiti (ARCH), a partnership of professional animal welfare organizations formed to provide emergency response services for animals affected by the earthquake. Over 20 organizations are involved in ARCH, also led by the World Society for the Protection of Animals and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
Dr. Ian Robinson, emergency relief director at IFAW arrived in Haiti six days after the quake hit (January 18).“What an experience,” says Robinson, now back at his office in Yarmouth Port, MA. “So many people didn’t have a place to live anymore, all they had was the money – if they had any money at all – that happened to be in their pocket when the earthquake hit. People were walking around stunned but still amazingly resilient. People were welcoming and friendly despite what they had been through.”
Still, there with a real shortage of food and water the friendliness, in places, dissipated fast. Today, in Port au Prince Reis said, people are now receiving food and water at emergency aid stations. Where homes are destroyed people are sleeping in tent cities or are moving out of Port-au-Prince to the countryside. Many lucky enough to have homes still standing are still sleeping outside because they fear their damaged property may be unstable, and because of the fear of additional after shocks. So far, there have been over 50 after shocks, though none have occurred for several days. Finally, they may have ended.
Reis says, “The animals are everywhere, you see mostly livestock and dogs. The cats you mostly don’t see. Honestly, the dogs are in good condition overall.”
Few dogs in Haiti are kept as indoor pets. Most dogs are community pets; they may enjoy periodic handouts, and might even have names – but they aren’t associated with a single family, aren’t ever petted or held, and they mostly must find their own scraps to eat. Cats serve to control rodents, but they have little interaction with families. It’s ironic, these lifestyles seemed to have helped the dogs and cats to survive and minimize injuries.
Robinson says, “When the earthquake and after shocks hit, the street was the safest place to be – and that’s where the animal were.”
The ARCH team – which includes veterinarians and animal welfare volunteers from agencies in neighboring Dominican Republic – is providing treatment for animals as they can. “We have marked vehicles, and people with animals find us,” says Reis. “Yesterday, we treated 29 dogs and five cats.”
Reis adds that many community dogs have relocated to the tent cities, perhaps to be away from the dangerous debris of fallen buildings and also to be in closer proximity to people. Even community dogs seem to prefer being near people, and their food handouts. Reis says the team will begin to assess the needs of dogs associated with the tent cities.
Debrah Schnackenberg, vice president animal protection at American Humane in Denver, CO points out that the ARCH mission reaches beyond animal welfare. The team is now assessing the threat of zoonotic disease – those are diseases which animals can transmit to people. Rabies and anthrax are at the top of the list. There is also a concern of the potential for parasite transmission.
The good news is that over 100,000 dogs were vaccinated for rabies in a program subsidized by the Brazilian government last year. The bad news is the rabies certificates given to dog owners were mostly lost to the earthquake, and the vaccinated community dogs were never given rabies tags. Knowing Haiti has historically had the highest incidence of rabies in the Caribbean, an outbreak is possible, but also it’s preventable. Of course, the mission, in part, is to prevent such an outbreak.
Livestock is of important monetary value to Haitians, and so are chickens. The ARCH team is also attempting to facilitate care for these animals. And ultimately, Robinson says to prevent Newcastle disease, a potential problem for poultry.
Since Robinson notes that conditions for animals weren’t so great before the earthquake, the goal is to ultimately do better than restore conditions to ‘normal.’ He knows of some young veterinarians who would like to set up shop in Haiti. “What we’re able to do is, of course, is dependent on funding,” he adds.
Learn more at www.americanhumane.org.