Joanne Monez lay on a bed with her rescue’s resident cats, worrying as floodwaters rose around her. It was the only island of safety she could find as Superstorm Sandy ravaged her one-story Queens, N.Y., home — which also served as a cat shelter.
“My fear was that if [the water] got any higher, I might have to go to my attic for safety, but felt the resident adult cats would try to follow me,” which would put them in danger, says Monez, who’s the director of All About Spay Neuter. With the mattress soaked, the water finally started to subside, and volunteers arrived at her door to help.
Sadly, Monez lost two of the 40 cats she was caring for, and her home-and-shelter was no longer livable. With the help of emergency grants and donations from supporters, she quickly moved to a new location and has a grand reopening planned for Jan. 20, but the group still needs help to recover its losses.
A Familiar Tale
Across the hardest-hit parts of New York and New Jersey, there are similar stories of hardships at shelters — like the Humane Society of Atlantic County in New Jersey, which had several inches of flooding in its kennels and veterinary hospital, and Rescue Ink in Long Beach, N.Y., which was able to save its animals but is rebuilding after losing everything else in the storm’s destruction.
Just over two months since the storm devastated the area, displacing pets and wreaking havoc on shelters in its path, a few things stand out: volunteers who braved days on end with no electricity to care for animals, thousands of dollars in losses and tales of shelters helping shelters. As they get back on their feet, many are still in need of help, from funding to supplies and volunteer time.
“It really strained resources and tested the abilities of the shelter community and rescue organizations,” says Brian Shapiro, New York state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “Lessons are going to be learned about what worked, what didn’t work … Even though this was a disaster, at the same time, I think it’s going to make all parties stronger.” (Watch a video about the work of HSUS in New York and New Jersey on YouTube.)
Though there are surely many other animal groups that need help, Vetstreet rounded up information from several shelters and rescues in the region. Below, learn how they weathered the storm and how you can lend a hand.
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How They Weathered the Storm: The home where the shelter was located was flooded with 4 feet of salt water, which destroyed everything in its path. The group was able to move into a new location the same night that a nor’easter struck. A Manhattan shelter, Animal Haven, jumped in to help, taking five of the adult cats and finding homes for four of them. Current Status: The group received grants from Petfinder and the ASPCA to help with rent, utilities and supplies to get started, and volunteers worked every weekend to paint, put up cabinets, assemble cat trees and get their new home ready. They’re planning a grand opening this month. How You Can Help: All About Spay Neuter is always looking for food and litter and volunteers to help with their kittens and with a fundraiser it’s holding on April 13. You can find more information here.
How They Weathered the Storm: Located in a flood plain, the shelter went without heat, power and running water for more than a week just after the storm, and the building sustained $200,000 in damage, according to information from Merrick Pet Care. Current Status: The shelter is completely out of room. Lesson Learned: "Everyone needs to get their pet microchipped so they can be easily identified,” says Dorothy Loguidice, volunteer coordinator. “Those families that chipped their pet before the storm had a much easier time tracking down and reuniting with them." How You Can Help: The shelter desperately needs skilled tradesmen to help rebuild (drywall damage, heating systems, etc.). They also need volunteers who can commit to training and then helping out around the shelter on a regular basis (taking dogs for walks, cleaning kennels, clerical work, etc.). You can find more information here.
How They Weathered the Storm: This shelter, which cares for animals who’ve been abused and neglected, was under 5 feet of water in the storm. The group has “lost everything,” including medical supplies, computers and vehicles used for animal transport. (The video showing the destruction is here.) Current Status: The animals are living in a temporary shelter. The Long Beach shelter “is cleaned out now and waiting for inspection from the city to find out what else needs to be done to open the facility back up,” says Joe Panz, one of the group’s founding members. How You Can Help: Rescue Ink needs donations to rebuild. You can find more information here.
How They Weathered the Storm: "[Hurricane Sandy] turned the shelter upside down. We've had at least 100 new dogs since Sandy, and we're full to the gills with more dogs in need than we have the capacity to help," says Theresa LaBianca, director of administration, according to information from Merrick Pet Care. Current Status: The shelter is very short on supplies and had extensive damage to its building. Staffing has been a huge issue because its employees have to spend time repairing their own homes. With so many dogs in the shelter, they've had to have staff members sleep overnight in the facility. Adoption rates have lowered because people don't have the time or resources to adopt. This has created a backlog of dogs who would normally be adopted in addition to those displaced by the storm. How You Can Help: Some people want to specifically adopt "Hurricane Sandy dogs." "This is appreciated, but people need to remember that there are many, many more dogs that weren't displaced by Sandy that still need homes," LaBianca says. The shelter also needs volunteers. You can find more information here.
How They Weathered the Storm: The cat rescue, which has about 120 cats in foster homes and coordinates adoptions out of a local Petco store, worked to help many people rescue their scared cats, who in many cases were trapped in damaged homes or ran outside during the storm. “I would say the most valuable lesson I learned was the compassion and dedication people have regarding assisting animals during this crisis,” says president Michelle Christofilakes. Maxwell, the kitten pictured to the right, was found separated from his mom the day after the storm and is headed to a permanent home this month. Current Status: The group needs donations to cover veterinary care. How You Can Help: They could use foster help or donations toward veterinarian care for animals they rescued during the storm. You can find more information here.
How They Weathered the Storm: Bideawee has several locations. Its Manhattan facility, which has been located on the edge of the East River for more than 100 years, was swamped with water during the storm surge. It had heavy water damage, and the elevator that’s used to move animals from the adoption center to the animal hospital was destroyed. This forced the facility to close for 20 days. The 70 animal residents were moved to Bideawee’s facility in Wantagh, N.Y., which is located in Nassau County and was also impacted by the storm. That facility was without power for 23 days. It operated with a generator for the first 11 days, but when that failed, its dedicated staff turned to flashlights and extra blankets for the animals. Bideawee’s Westhampton facility also lost power for a few days and had wind damage to its roof. Current Status: It will take hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair the group’s facilities and recover the costs of lost business while its animal hospital was closed. How You Can Help: The group can use volunteers and donations. You can find more information here.
How They Weathered the Storm: Though the shelter escaped the flooding it expected, it operated in the dark for nearly six days until power was restored. The shelter took in animals from evacuated areas before the storm hit. Current Status: “The aftermath has just been trying to find homes for the animals that we took in,” says Tiffany Lacey, executive director. Its dog population has returned to normal levels, but it still has several more cats than it normally does. How You Can Help: The group would like to invest in a generator in the event of any future power outages, and it can always use donations. You can find more information here.
How They Weathered the Storm: With headquarters in Port Washington, N.Y., the organization deployed two mobile units to a temporary pet shelter in Garden City, N.Y., that had been set up by Nassau County’s Office of Emergency Management with assistance from Animal League America, Pet Safe Coalition and Nassau County SPCA. The units were available to house pets whose owners were evacuating. At their headquarters, the group took in adoptable animals from Bobbi & the Strays, which had severe flooding. Current Status: “After the storm hit, the need for a shelter for displaced pets was huge,” says communications manager Lindsey Calabrese. Nassau County moved the temporary shelter to the Mitchell Field Gymnasium, where Animal League America rescue and medical staff continues to care for displaced pets. The league has cared for more than 510 displaced pets at the emergency shelter, where there are still more than 150 displaced animals. Many owners are still trying to find a place to stay where they can keep their animals with them. In the meantime, the league is working with Nassau County on a foster referral program so that the pets will have homes until their owners can be reunited with them.
How They Weathered the Storm: Located right on the water in Atlantic City, the shelter was hit hard. Their kennels had 20 inches of water and the veterinary hospital had up to 12 inches, but the animals were safe, thanks to the director, who stayed at the facility all week with them, moving them to higher cages. They lost about $50,000 worth of medical supplies and another $50,000 in equipment and furniture. They worked with agencies throughout New Jersey to distribute five tractor-trailer loads of dog and cat food and litter to storm victims. Current Status: The shelter has since cleaned, rebuilt or replaced anything damaged by the storm. “Our animals remained safe, and the only real loss was financial,” says executive director Steven Dash. How You Can Help: The shelter is in need of donations to help replenish funds used to recover from Sandy. You can find more information here.
How They Weathered the Storm: Located on the south shore of Long Island, “our jurisdiction covers some of the hardest-hit areas from the hurricane,” says director Cindy Iacopella. The organization assisted families in distress during the storm, including rescuing animals after fires that came as a result and during the nor’easter that struck days later, as well as delivering animal supplies to people who couldn’t drive out to get them. Current Status: Iacopella points out that some families are just learning that their homes can’t be repaired, and there’s a shortage of pet-friendly housing. “People are forced, after losing everything, with the heartbreaking decision of having to surrender their pet,” she says. As a result, her shelter has had an influx of animals in need of homes. How You Can Help: The best way to help this shelter is by adopting a pet — especially one of the animals who are harder to place, Iacopella says. You can find more information here or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone interested in fostering or volunteering is asked to email email@example.com.
How They Weathered the Storm: Located in Jersey City, Liberty Humane prepared for flooding but sustained wind damage, and its storage trailer was destroyed. Staff and volunteers cared for their animals with no power for eight days. Current Status: Though the shelter is back up and running, they have no storage space. “We actually have a really amazing amount of food right now that’s sitting wrapped in plastic in our backyard,” says Allison Junkers, development events coordinator. How You Can Help: The group is hoping to raise money to build storage. You can find more information here.
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