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February 4, 2010

Improving Animals’ Lives Following the Haiti Earthquake

Long-term disaster response plans

Humane Society International

  • We hope to improve life for Haiti's animals for the long term. © Kathy Milani/HSI

  • We can make a difference for them. © Kathy Milani/HSI

Update: Members of our second on-the-ground disaster response team, led by Dave Pauli, returned from Haiti February 4. A third team deployed February 10 to continue helping animals and people in need, and to further extend our long-range commitment to animal welfare in the stricken nation.

The critical emergency response phase of the HSI/HSUS/HSVMA mission in Haiti has ended, and the members of our second on-the-ground team, in addition to providing urgent care to animals in need, have completed their assessment of the animal welfare challenges associated with the January 12 earthquake. The team's final report will help HSI/HSUS/HSVMA to meet the pressing needs of the near term, and, with animal care partners like Veterinary Care and Human Services, and Christian Veterinary Mission, to forge a long-term agenda for advancing animal welfare in Haiti. Other HSI/HSUS/HSVMA teams are likely to travel to Haiti in the weeks ahead to continue helping animals in need of immediate care. The long-term HSI/HSUS/HSVMA recovery plan is expected to include:

  • the shipment and distribution of food and supplies necessary to keep animals alive and healthy
  • financial and practical support for Haiti's crucial rabies vaccination program
  • ongoing direct animal care and treatment in Haiti
  • a rural spaying and neutering program with Christian Veterinary Mission
  • collaboration in equine care and welfare workshops
  • disaster preparedness training for Haitian veterinary personnel
  • the creation of a basic animal care infrastructure or animal services clinic
  • a program of improved care for captive animals in zoos, and
  • the hiring of veterinary personnel to staff and manage funded initiatives.

The basic challenge is one of helping animals in an impoverished nation scarred by one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the western hemisphere.

In virtually every instance, those responding to animals in disaster must carry out their work with deference to the urgent human needs of the unfolding catastrophe. In the Haitian earthquake's aftermath, there has been one searing reality confronting animal responders from HSI/HSUS/HSVMA and other organizations. The troubles of animals have paled by comparison with the staggering toll of death, suffering, and loss to Haiti's human population. Several hundred thousand Haitians are dead, and thousands more are dying from wounds, injuries, and infection. Several million are homeless, displaced, and destitute. One hundred thousand may be disabled, in a nation with no prosthetics. Tens of thousands have been orphaned, in a nation where there were too many orphans before.

The Haitian earthquake was not like Hurricane Katrina, with time ticking away against the minutes and hours of the lives of thousands of pets stranded in homes and buildings throughout the strike zone in Louisiana and Mississippi. And Haiti was not the United States, with an emergency response infrastructure ready to accommodate the efforts of those who wanted to help animals.

Haiti was, instead, what it has been for a long time, an impoverished and underdeveloped nation, with different styles of pet keeping, traditional forms of subsistence agriculture incorporating animals, and a heavy reliance on horses and donkeys as beasts of burden. Before the earthquake, its animal welfare problems, grave as they were, did not greatly differ from those of dozens of nations around the world in which compassion and resources are not yet sufficient to reach the plight and the needs of suffering or neglected animals. Now, the earthquake has put a spotlight on these problems.

The fact that animals have been more or less badly off in Haiti for some time, however, does not mean that nothing can be accomplished for them now or ever. In this respect, the earthquake has done for animals in the star-crossed island nation what Katrina did for animals in the Gulf Coast. Just as the 2005 hurricane revealed some of the basic animal welfare deficits in the humane infrastructure of the Gulf Coast states, the 2010 earthquake has underscored the paucity and fragility of animal welfare resources in Haiti. And just as the generosity of caring donors made it possible for The HSUS to help Gulf Coast animal care organizations to "build back better," the generosity of HSI/HSUS/HSVMA supporters has set the stage for the substantial improvement of animal care in a reconstructed Haiti.