For many of the human survivors of Hurricane Maria, losing one’s home or other property will never compare to losing a pet, even if temporarily. Luckily, one of the ASPCA’s top priorities following a natural disaster is reuniting displaces pets with their loving families. After the devastation of Hurricane Maria on the island of St. Croix, countless pet parents came to the ASPCA emergency shelter, desperate to find their beloved pets. Here are just a few of the heartwarming reunions we’ve seen while working on the island:
Cyndy and Kiwi’s Close Call
Mohamed Khaled of the ASPCA with Cyndy Lemmon and Kiwi
Cyndy Lemmon of Christiansted, St. Croix, had just opened her front door when her young miniature Pinscher, Kiwi, bolted into the yard where Cyndy’s fiancé, Joe Southwick, was repairing fencing that had been damaged during the hurricane. Kiwi took off, leaving Cyndy heartbroken and fearful for her small dog.
“The gate wasn’t up yet, and Kiwi zipped out,” said Cyndy, who posted a lost dog notice on her veterinarian’s bulletin board following the incident. Meanwhile, a Good Samaritan named Scott Hiddleston had found Kiwi and posted her photos on a Facebook page for lost pets, explaining he had taken her to the ASPCA’s emergency shelter on the grounds of the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center (SCAWC), which was heavily damaged during the storm. Two days later, someone recognized Kiwi’s photos and tagged Cyndy.
“I didn’t sleep well the two nights she was gone,” said Cyndy, who retrieved Kiwi on November 19. “I was ecstatic to see her.”
David and His Pack
David Brewster and Emmanuel Rodriguez were reunited with dogs Versace, Sheba, Eve and Shishi
Frederiksted resident David Brewster, whose home was damaged, sheltered his four dogs at an abandoned elementary school while he was at work. A concerned resident reported the dogs to the ASPCA, unaware of the fact that they were being housed at the school intentionally. The dogs—Versace, Sheba, Eve and Shishi—were then taken to our emergency shelter, where David was able to identify them on November 16.
“When the dogs went missing, my heart dropped,” said David, an operations and ramp agent at CapeAir Airlines. “So after work I decided to visit the ASPCA, and the dogs were there wagging and jumping—missing me like I missed them.”
“They were so happy to see one another,” said Pamela Holmes, an ASPCA responder who facilitated the reunion. She also provided David with supplies, including dog crates, collars and leashes to further help David and the dogs in their time of need.
Robyn, Brutus and Spot
Mohamed Khaled with Robyn Swanston and her dogs, Brutus and Spot
Robyn Swanston went three full days without her dogs, Brutus and Spot, who, unbeknownst to Robyn, had been picked up outside a local restaurant by Mohamed Khaled, an ASPCA Community Engagement caseworker, and Dick Green, the ASPCA’s Senior Director of Disaster Response. Robyn was quickly reunited with her two happy dogs. “Brutus and Spot were clearly the best of friends,” said Mohamed. “And both dogs were super excited to see Robyn.”
Brutus on his way home, after being reunited with Robyn.
Chester Finds His Way Home
ASPCA responder Cholette Ness Rolland with Anuar and Vanessa Abed, their son Mufid Abed, and Chester
Chester, one of many horses who was displaced after the storm and rescued by ASPCA responders, also experienced a happy reunion.
“One day when I was cleaning the horse stalls, a woman excitedly appeared, exclaiming, ‘That’s our horse! I can’t believe he’s here!’” recalled ASPCA Senior Vice President of Information Technology, Nada O’Neal, who was in St. Croix assisting the field response team in caring for the displaced animals.
Nada was cautious at first, but when the woman, Vanessa Abed and her husband Anuar, showed her pictures of Chester being adored by family—even munching on cool ice cubes on hot summer days—it was clear that Chester was a beloved family member.
“Vanessa explained that Chester’s real name is ‘One Direction,’ because he only liked to go in one direction—back to his comfy stall—something I already knew,” explained Nada. “So I felt lucky to see him heading toward his one true favorite direction—home.”
Making Reunions Like These Possible
Since September 28, more than 400 animals have been cared for at the ASPCA emergency shelter, and over 13,000 animals impacted by Hurricane Maria have been assisted by the ASPCA through the distribution of pet supplies.
Joel Lopez, Director of Planning and Field Operations for the ASCPA’s Field Investigations and Response team (FIR), spent over three weeks in St. Croix. He also coordinated our response to Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, as well, ensuring that the right resources got to the right place at the right time. But Maria posed special challenges.
“Being an island, nothing can be driven in or out,” explained Joel. “What we brought in was all we had to work with.”
In addition, according to Joe Hinkle, Shelter Director for the FIR team, many places still lacked power, including the temporary shelter. Some retailers accept cash only, which makes shopping for resources difficult, and internet connections are iffy when they were available.
Still, Joe said, “It feels amazing when we are able to make connections and return animals to their owners.”
The ASPCA has deployed more than 300 responders this year alone to assist communities impacted by hurricanes and wildfires throughout the U.S. and the Virgin Islands. We are currently committed to remaining on St. Croix, working under the direction of the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture, until January 1, 2018.
The SCAWC, which has been serving the St. Croix since 1973, continues to work closely with the ASPCA to serve the community’s animals and begin the process of rebuilding.
“We’ve never been needed more to help reunite displaced pets with their owners, as well as care for the many strays we have due to overpopulation and those that are being left behind as some families are forced to leave,” stated Laura Ballard, SCAWC Board President.
“Maria left St. Croix in such a way that day-to-day life for people is hard enough,” Joel added. “And for animals it’s extraordinarily hard.”
Luckily for some animals, being reunited with their families is the first step to rebuilding what was lost. We are grateful to be able to make these difficult times slightly easier for those who have suffered so much.