Following Hurricanes Irma and Harvey companion animals were delivered to many urban areas far away from the disaster zones, including Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles and others.
Sounds good? In some ways, maybe not.
Certainly, lives do get saved as mostly these animals are successfully adopted. There’s a curious celebrity value for animals rescued from elsewhere, which understandably some shelters and rescues play off of for PR value (and therefore fundraising value), that’s an upside for them. But a downside is that it may be costly to treat some for medical issues, including merely the effort to spay/neuter.
I’ll talk about the city I know best – Chicago. Right now, cats are desperate for homes, as Chicago Animal Care and Control (CACC), the City’s municipal shelter, is teeming with cats. There are now 195 cats at this one facility, including many mothers and kittens. There are even kittens in the hallways, as space is now a concern. For about the first half of 2017, Susan Russell, executive director at CACC says that the live release rate for cats was 93 percent, now it’s 89 percent.
Why the uptick in cat numbers? There’s no one answer. Yes, it’s true, many rescues and shelters are filled with animals from other places, mostly from hurricane regions. Do also consider it is the tail end of the so-called kitten season. Also, trap-neuter-return-vaccinate in Chicago is on the decline as is the program to bottle-feed the kittens (due to one local shelter’s inability or unwillingness to continue its legacy program), so it’s left up to CACC to do what they can.
If using resources and space for hurricane rescued animals is a problem, is the answer not to do that?
Let me state the value of saving animals of hurricane regions. Doing so saves individual lives because most animals that are transplanted do get adopted.
To be clear, the animals shipped off to Chicago and other cities are not those hoping to be reunited with family and lost during the hurricane. Those animals that were sent off were already in shelters or were clearly homeless. By sending off these animals, it allows space for lost or rescued animals waiting to be reunified with their families. And some who are now homeless sadly have no other way than to give up their pet to the local shelter – where there has to be space. So, this idea of sending animals off to other locations saves many lives. Also, depending on the hurricane region – some shelters may need the relief, as employees/volunteers can’t make it to work.
There lies the conundrum? A life saved is a life saved…I don’t accept that the answer is not to help.
Twenty five years ago following any disaster, except some assistance from national humane groups, there wasn’t the network of assistance from other cities that there is today.
However, I also feel that local shelters and rescues do need to consider their local donor bases, and in some cases, their very mission statements.
I think saving animals from where a disaster has struck without compromising the local needs can be accomplished if rescues and shelters work with one another, and room and resources are set aside for the perpetual local need.
Back to Chicago. Right/Wrong, Good Guys/Bad Guys – none of that matters now as cats urgently need to be saved. When in crowded conditions, cats suffer anxiety which often leads to illness – and at a municipal facility that may lead to euthanasia. This is not the fault of the facility. It is not the fault of cats.
Of course, I’ve said for years – if there were a way to intervene and offer resources – BEFORE a cat (or dog) landed at the municipal facility, wouldn’t that be great? Chicago now has such a innovative program, Chicagoland Rescue and Intervention Program (referred to as CRISP), as a coalition of shelters intervene, and hopefully re-connect the human/animal bond, or prevent it the bond from fracturing – by offering answers and resources for people.
Meanwhile about 200 cats are sitting in CACC, as staff and volunteers hope the facility doesn’t break in an infectious disease.
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I hope the next step is to save animals from Puerto Rico, as the island suffered a severe over-population issue well before Hurricane Maria made matters even worse. I think saving cats (and dogs) from Puerto Rico can be achieved in most major urban areas in the U.S. with a coordinated local effort from each individual community and to do so, all while keeping in mind expected local needs of resources.