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September 24, 2010

Day 3: HSI Disaster Responders in Mexico

Team rescues animals trapped for days

Humane Society International

  • This man came back for his parakeets. Kelly Coladarci/HSI

  • The surviving animals were frightened, but alive. Monica Pineda

  • Rescue gets underway. Monica Pineda

  • Finally out of harm's way. Monica Pineda

  • Carried out to safety. Monica Pineda

  • Back on the rescue boat. Omar Sarmiento

  • Looking after the survivors. Monica Pineda

  • After days of uncertainty, smiling at last. Kerri Burns

  • One big hug, one big smile. Kerri Burns

by Kelly Coladarci

As we embarked into an area still predominantly underwater—and in no way navigable by foot—a local fisherman proved to be a tremendous asset to our efforts when he agreed to transport our team from point to point through the floodwaters in his boat.

Traveling the streets, the devastation became increasingly apparent as we observed families walking through chest-high water with hopes of being able to carry out what few possessions they had left in their homes. Often, they were able to remove all that was left in their houses in a single bag.

Helping animals and humans

During our assessment, we found several dogs who had taken refuge on top of rooftops, a determined but weary dog treading water—using what energy he had left to get to dry land—and a horse and mule tethered to a house, unable to escape from the treacherous water that was now up to their bellies.

Making the journey with us in the boat were several people we'd agreed to take back to their houses in hopes of salvaging what was left.

One of the men making this trek was returning to his house with the sole intent of retrieving a birdcage with his two parakeets. The birds were fine and their caretaker was quite happy and relieved to be reunited with his little friends.

Another passenger on the boat was overcome by the devastation and broke down in tears. The floodwaters around her house were still at such a high level that she was unable to even enter.

A deafening silence

Farther down the street, a couple shouted from the second balcony of their home to inform us that for the last two days, they heard dogs frantically barking in the house across from them. Today, though, the barking had stopped, and they were concerned the dogs hadn't outlasted the floodwaters. Apparently the owner abandoned the house before the storm and hadn't brought the dogs with him.

We quickly rowed to the house and exited the boat into the waist-high water. We began to look for an entry point and pushed past a metal panel that had once served as the gate to the backyard.

We whistled for the dogs but heard nothing, and as we came around the corner of the house, we saw two little, white, dirty faces, terrified but alive. The abandoned poodles had climbed to the highest point in the corner of the backyard atop a pile of rocks and a large bucket that was no more than two feet by two feet. It appeared they'd been there for many days, trapped by a tree that had fallen over, making it impossible for them to get down.

We quickly climbed over the debris and limbs of fallen trees and were able to reach the dogs. As we neared, they began to eagerly reach out to us, desperate to escape their watery confinement. Carrying the poodles back to the boat through the water, we noticed a canary in a cage hanging from the wall against the house. We were able to retrieve all three animals and headed to the fisherman and what had now become a lifeboat. The dogs were quite hungry, thirsty and severely matted from head to toe.

A new life

Despite their exhaustion, they seemed perfectly content to sit in our laps and give us kisses. I’m not sure whether anyone can say for sure who feels a greater sense of happiness in the wake of a disaster: the rescued or the rescuer who arrives in time to see the excitement and relief in the eyes of the ones they reach.

We got the animals back to shore and transported them to the local temporary shelter that was being run by veterinarians from the local university. The vets even trimmed their matted hair and cleaned their ears. They will be cared for at the temporary shelter and then be placed for adoption.

Had there not been a rescue team patrolling those waters, who knows what might have happened to those poodles or the bird. Today, thanks to the charity of a compassionate boatman and the concerned advice of some diligent flood survivors, these animals will have a new lease on life and a chance to make their way to a caring home.

Kelly Coladarci is a Companion Animals and Engagement Program Manager for Humane Society International.