Frantic pets await as Humane Society volunteers drive to the rescue


New York

We're on our way to a house near Midland Beach where a dog and a cat were left behind four days earlier.

Sinkholes scar roads and sidewalks. Trees and utility poles are down. Staten Island is still in shock in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

The Humane Society of the United States's animal-rescue team is trying to save the pets left behind in evacuated homes.

This little dwelling has been knocked off its foundation and is tipping in the muck.

Troy Snell drives the rescue truck as Rowdy Shaw navigates with a laptop and Patrick Kwan fields the incoming calls.

Firemen trying to investigate a gas leak remain outside, held at bay by the dog barking from the other side of the door.

"In a disaster area you need to prepare for the worst," says Shaw, putting on a thick pair of gloves. "Assume every dog is angry."

The rescuers' gear includes poles fitted with nets to catch cats, other poles with slip nooses for bigger animals and long tongs for snakes. They assemble a large plastic carrier to hold the dog and a smaller one for the cat.

Shaw is able to enter the house and calm the big dog — a shepherd-chow mix weighing about 80 pounds — and get him inside a carrier. Two firemen carry the animal to the truck. The dog seems almost relieved to be with people again, even as he is secured in a plastic cage and strapped onto the bed of the truck.

The rescuers don't find the cat.

The Humane Society is one of the organizations working within New York City's Animal Planning Task Force, a creation of the Office of Emergency Management, to find stranded animals and bring them to their owners or safe shelter elsewhere.

"New York has put policies in place that others should look at," says Kwan. "Animal-friendly policies, like allowing pets in shelters with their owners and allowing them on public transportation."

The policies have made life a little easier after the disaster, he says: "We're getting dozens of calls for rescues, instead of hundreds or thousands."

They take the big shepherd-chow to Susan E. Wagner High School, a makeshift shelter. Hundreds of people and their pets have been here for days.

It's an emotional scene when the dog's owner, Barbara Larson, is reunited with her pet. She has long hugs for Bear and the rescuers. That the dog is safe is the first piece of good news she's had in a disastrous week.

"The animals are the only things they have left," says Kwan. "The woman who lives there, her house is gone, and all she has are her pets."

In a few minutes, Kwan has other rescue requests for the team. There's a cat at one house, a pit bull at another. A call comes in asking if the crew can rescue a shark stranded in an inland pond. They can't, but they can tackle the other calls.

While the truck creeps through traffic, people approach with pleas for help. One man just lost his Yorkie. Another wants to know if he can get an insulated dog house for his recently homeless pet. A woman asks if the rescuers can remove dead animals from an abandoned house.

There's not much they can do for these immediate requests, but they are able to recover the cat and the pit bull. Back at the shelter the owners are overjoyed.

The Humane Society has set up two centers in the area — in Monmouth County, N.J., and Nassau County on Long Island — from which they will coordinate rescues in the coming days. The two shelters are housing close to 200 animals, and the Humane Society plans to set up two additional shelters in the coming days.

It has posted hot-line numbers for people in need, a Facebook page devoted to the cause, and a website through which people can help. Donors also can text ANIMALS to 20222 and donate $10 to support the Humane Society's Disaster Relief Fund.

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