11/21/2012 08:09 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2013

Giving Thanks

Just a month after Hurricane Sandy with residents of Staten Island, Long Island and the Jersey shore still recovering from the devastation, we find ourselves celebrating Thanksgiving. Not surprisingly, the idea of giving thanks in the aftermath of such unbelievable hardship must be difficult for everybody who suffered life-altering losses. This year I find myself especially thankful not just for the safety of my own family but also for the incredibly brave first responders who were there to aid the victims of the natural disaster.

There were hundreds of first responders on the ground waiting for Hurricane Sandy. Among them was the American Humane Association's Red Star Animal Emergency Services Team. Their rescue rig equipped with a veterinary suite, boats and animal handling equipment was transported from Tennessee and pre-staged in Pennsylvania. Animal shelters were set up adjacent to the Red Cross shelters that housed evacuees. According to one of the Red Star staffers, every animal in the path of Sandy's howling winds knew something was happening.

"Our work is all tactical until we start picking up animals," said one of the team members. One of the most emotional moments she recalls was taking in the Jack Russell Terrier of an elderly man in a wheelchair. He had lost power in his home and had been evacuated. Though the shelter was the safest place for his beloved dog (ironically named Lightning) to be during the storm, the man was crying and sick with worry as he exited the shelter without his little companion.

After two and half days in Pennsylvania, the Red Star Rescue Team was deployed in the two hardest hit areas of New Jersey. Both Bergen County and Atlantic County were ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. There were countless homeless and lost pets. In addition to the power outages, roads were also ripped up leaving residents stranded and without food or water.

With the generous assistance of Pfizer Animal Health, MARS Petcare US, Cat's Pride and Rescue bank, the Red Star Rescue Team was able to deliver 130,000 pounds of emergency supplies to the area. And thanks to some very effective grass roots publicity by organizations like The M.O.M.S. (Making of Miracle Stories) Rescue, the word quickly spread that support could be found close by. Soon pet owners and volunteers from local animal rescues were walking for miles to the Red Star Camp to secure drinking water, bags of dog food, cat food and kitty litter.

It's ironic that in the face of such unbelievable tragedy there can also such powerful, humanizing moments. This year, Thanksgiving is truly a tribute to the courage of all the women and men cared for the most vulnerable in their time of grave need. I am thankful for their sacrifice and for the compassion and dedication they display under pressure.

Happy Thanksgiving.