As state and federal disaster-relief workers shift from rescue to recovery mode in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, officials from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, as well as nonprofit animal-welfare advocates are only now beginning to assess the full scope of the impact on the state's non-human victims.
Due to limited communications in the initial days after the storm, little was known about how Vermont's animal population fared. However, reports of dairy farms and livestock affected by the flood waters are on the rise, as is the need for critical supplies such as feed, generators, fuel and temporary fencing.
"We have barns that are completely gone and no shelter for the animals," says Koi Boynton at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. "People have to get water to animals, get milk trucks to dairy farms and people who don’t have feed because it washed away. You name it, we’re dealing with it."
Thus far, there have been only scattered reports of animals lost in the floods, among them a dairy farm in southern Vermont that lost seven heifers, Boynton says. Jericho Settlers Farm in Richmond (pictured above) reportedly lost 15 pigs when the farm was washed out.
"Those numbers are fairly small right now and we’re hoping they stay that way," Boynton adds. "But we still need the opportunity to go out and assess, so we don’t have the full picture yet."
Several horses and chickens have had to be evacuated, mostly in the southernmost counties. But for the most part, Boynton says, people are trying to shelter their animals in place. The bigger issue is trying to provide care for those animals while they’re there, especially in hard-to-reach areas and those still without power. "Milking is definitely an issue," she says.
Although relief efforts by the Vermont National Guard may help somewhat, obviously, their first priority must be to human victims. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has made itself available for search-and-rescue operations for stranded animals but thus far, no requests have come in, reports Joanne Bourbeau, senior state director of the HSUS in Vermont and New Hampshire.
HSUS has opened a temporary shelter in West Halifax, in hard-hit Windham County, and is housing at least six cats displaced by the storm. Overall, the need has been somewhat limited, as the American Red Cross has been allowing displaced residents to bring their pets into the shelters, and in some places set up a "shelter within a shelter."
The HSUS has also set up an emergency shelter near Brattleboro that's open to pets brought in by families displaced by flooding. The HSUS and the Vermont Companion Animal Neutering Clinic are also offering to provide pet food and supplies to evacuated families.
Despite the relatively good news on the four-legged front, Bourbeau points out that the HSUS in Vermont is still sheltering 54 Labrador retrievers seized in a raid on a Bakersfield puppy mill in late July. Although Petsmart Charities provided some initial supplies following that operation, no court date has been set in the case, which means those dogs cannot be adopted out yet.
For Bourbeau herself, the Vermont animal-rescue operation has been especially unnerving. Although her own property in Whitingham wasn't damaged, her two stepdaughters in Wilmington, just 15 minutes away, both had to be evacuated from their homes.
"I know all the people here who’ve been affected. I've got good friends whose homes and businesses have been lost," Bourbeau says. "So, it's a lot more personal than any national response I’ve been on. It’s just surreal."
In the hard-hit Rutland area, the need has also been surprisingly limited, according to Lorri Golin, with the Rutland Area Disaster Animal Response Team (RADART). The team was initially activated Sunday afternoon when they contacted by Red Cross workers, who reported that some displaced residents were bringing their pets with them into the human shelter.
At its height, RADART was housing about a half-dozen dogs and three cats, but that number has since declined. Nevertheless, Golin points out that, with ongoing National Guard evacuations, they may see an uptick in animals that need to be housed indefinitely.
Golin also notes that if the number of pets needing temporary shelter rises in the coming days due to new evacuations in the Killington area, or because Hurricane Katia becomes an issue for northern New England, RADART will need additional volunteers to feed and walk animals.
Currently, both Bourbeau and Golin say they don't need pet food donations, which are difficult to transport and store, especially with all the road closures in the southern half of the state. Cash donations are preferable, which can either be mailed or, in the case of the Humane Society, done through their website. Contributions of $10 to the HSUS East Coast Animal Rescue Team can be done by texting "LOVE" to 20222.
Vermont farmers affected by Irene-related storm damage can click here for additional information on resources available to them through the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. Folks who want to lend a hand or make donations for farm and livestock recovery efforts can click here for additional information on you can help.
Photos by David Sokol and Ben Sarle, courtesy of the Humane Society of the United States.