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November 22, 2013

Typhoon Haiyan Response: Q&A with Dr. Rey del Napoles

Humane Society International

  • Dr. Rey takes a moment with a cat. Tonee Despojo

  • Examining a dog. Tonee Despojo

  • Discussing plans. Tonee Despojo

On November 21, as Dr. Rey del Napoles, HSI’s lead veterinarian in the Typhoon Haiyan response, came out of the field temporarily for needed rest, Kelly O’Meara, HSI’s Director for Companion Animals and Engagement, was able to ask him about his experience.

What are the most common animal-related problems you’ve encountered thus far?

The conditions range from lack of food, water and shelter for companion animals to complete destruction of facilities in the case of farm animals. Many companion animals have been severely stressed by the separation from their owners, resulting in compromised health and suffering from problems like mange and other painful skin diseases. Some of the animals were left behind in cages or chained when their families evacuated, and this is the single biggest challenge.

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Have you found any animals in need of direct rescue and care?

Yes, we have found many examples. In the first few days of deployment, we even had to carry out some extensive veterinary care on makeshift roadside tables. We now have started to move the animals in need of critical care to our emergency shelter in Cebu City while we go around providing care to other animals reported to us or found by our team in the field.

Are displaced and affected families reaching out to you in regard to their concern for animals?

Yes. We launched a hotline (9163869126; add 011 63 if calling from the U.S.) for people to call us and report animals who needed rescuing from Tacloban and surrounding areas, and in the first 24 hours we received no fewer than 30 calls from desperate owners pleading with us to save their animals.

How deep is the bond between the people you’ve met and the animals around them?

In some of the regions that we visited, everything was destroyed: their homes, their belongings; in some cases, they lost members of their families. But we were welcomed when they found out what we stood for and what we wished to accomplish. They stood in line patiently with their beloved companions to receive veterinary care, food, and water with the promise that we would return again soon. It was amazing to see the smiles on their faces, in spite of their losses, when they realized that we had brought relief to the animals who were not getting enough food because their was hardly anything to eat.

How did your previous work in Cebu make this experience easier for you?

We’ve been working on Cebu for the past four years on a street dog program and veterinary training center, and the regions badly hit by the typhoon are close to Cebu. Our strong contacts and presence on the ground made it easier for us to reach out to difficult areas quickly.

How have you been able to partner with government and municipal authorities?

All our work in the Philippines over the past four years has been in partnership with the government in different provinces and municipalities. We have been very successful in most of our various partnership programs and tapping into this network for such a delicate and important mission is testimony to the close and strong relationships HSI has formed at this level.

You’ve trained nearly 100 veterinarians nationwide over the last several years. Have you been able to mobilize this network in the current response, and how?

Our own HSI program staff in the Philippines, consisting of vets who went through our training, were the core group that we deployed for this response. We have heard from many of our trainees and have kept them on standby if there is a chance that we might need them.

How easily were you able to mobilize for response?

It’s never easy to mobilize for a response for a disaster of this magnitude. But with HSI’s network and well-trained and motivated team, the assessments and intervention strategy were completed efficiently, enabling the HSI team to be amongst the first responders in the hardest hit areas.

Is there any one story of an animal here that has really captured the entire experience thus far?

A photographer friend sent an image of a placard placed on top of a dog kennel in the middle of the street which read “INT HUMANE SOCIETY PLEASE HELP ME, BUBBA.” We assumed this must be a plea from an owner who wanted help for his dog and we made it a mission to try to find this location and help this animal. Incredibly, we were able to find the location, and we came upon the cutest six-month-old puppy who showered our team with kisses and hugs before we could even offer her food or water.

The owner came over, very emotional and overwhelmed by our response. He only knew of our team because he had read about our work in the Philippines during previous disasters. He had no idea if we really existed and had just put up a placard because he was desperate, with no food or water left for his beloved Bubba, and we were the only agency he had heard of that helped animals. It was an emotional moment for the team and everyone except Bubba cried. This moment captured the bond between one man and his dog, and his hope against all odds that someone he had only imagined to exist would answer his call.

You’ve responded to other disasters with HSI. How does this one differ?

In all of our previous disasters that I've been involved with responding to, we never came across so much death and devastation. We’ve responded to floods, typhoons and earthquakes, but most have been recovery and salvage missions where we found the animals with their owners in need of assistance. This intervention required for us to use all of our skills since the scenes of tragedy and despair exceeded anything I had seen before.

What do you think will be the lessons of this tragedy?

Some kind of mechanism to evacuate animals needs to be developed and enforced in the animal welfare law. We have had to innovate [as part of] our intervention in this special case, [doing things] that we have never had to do before until now in the Philippines.

Please donate to our International Disaster Fund.

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