Help arrives for desperate animals in hurricane-stricken Barbuda
We are on the ground treating and caring for injured animals caught in the path of Hurricane Irma
By Scott Cantin, Disaster Communications Manager for World Animal Protection reporting from Antigua and Barbuda
I once read a book that described what the world would be like if there suddenly were no people left. There was an early chapter that said pets trapped in houses would die quickly of starvation and dehydration. Those lucky enough to be outdoors would enter a strange and threatening new world where only the toughest dogs and outdoor adapted cats who learned hunting from their mothers would survive. Livestock would make easy prey for predators and while eventually, nature would rebalance itself, the first days, weeks and months would be torturous for domesticated animals.
This is the scene on Barbuda Island – or something very nearly like it.
People were forced to evacuate after Hurricane Irma destroyed or damaged 95% of the buildings here. They were not allowed to bring their animals or do not have permanent homes in Antigua to bring their cherished pets.
These animals we see clearly belong to someone.
They wander through the shattered landscape, confused, hungry, scared and injured. The smell of death is heavy in the air and would be as disturbing to them as it is for our team, probably more as we at least know what happened to cause their world to change in the span of a few hours.
We were adopted by a band of friendly puppies almost as soon as we got off the boat. They accompanied us on our assessment and took all the food and water we offered eagerly. They barked at other animals that we passed, as if to say, “we’re a pack now. Stay away”. We’re told they hang around the port every day. They look healthy, and as they eventually lose interest on our trek, we make a note to add them to our list of animals to help as soon as we get the aid delivery rolling.
Dogs stay by ruined houses, waiting for a meal or attention that won't come. Some are friendly, while others bark and snap as we pass. Sheep, goats, horses and feral donkeys are everywhere. Thankfully, the grass they need to survive right now is about all that is left. I worry about the cows. We have only seen a feral herd so far but I know their domestic cousins are here. Without someone to milk them for days their suffering would be immense.
We catch glimpses of cats peeking out from their hiding places. They are stressed and fear the roaming dogs. As time goes on the dogs will form packs and start to hunt the other animals. The baby lambs and goat kids will be in real danger then.
Piglets will be luckier. The local pigs are large and not even the bravest dog will dare to take on a mother sow and her pigs.
We hear a light mewling coming from under some corrugated iron. We lift it to reveal a small orange and white female whose condition reveals she is well cared for and someone’s pet. We know that it is only a matter of time before she ends up hurt or worse by the dogs. We decide to take her with us back to Antigua, where she will stay at the Antigua and Barbuda Humane Society until we can find her owner.
Our partner Karen Corbin, president and executive director of the Humane Society has a list of pets anxious Barbudans gave us, and we stop at where their houses used to be calling out names, hoping to find survivors. Mostly, we just hear silence. At one of our last stops, we call out “Ivory! Ivory…”
Suddenly, a ball of excited energy burst forward, all wagging hind quarters and the happy face of a dog that knows it has found friends. What this must be like for the animals having their lives turned upside down and then all of their people suddenly vanished. Ivory is an 18-month-old cream coloured Staffordshire terrier. He’s very friendly but is obviously dehydrated. We give him water and attach a lead to his collar. He’s going to be reunited with his owner tonight!
People can only come to Barbuda if escorted by the defence forces. Some have come back to feed animals. The defence officers have cut loose tethered dogs, as they find them giving them at least a chance of survival.
Cleary the first priority is to manage the dogs. They are in need of help but they also pose a danger to the livestock.
Working with our partner the Antigua and Barbuda Humane Society, we’re going to home or shelter the dogs first and then get to work protecting the many, many other animals who need our help. I’ll update you soon!
Together with the Humane Society and the Antigua and Barbuda government, we’re working tirelessly to quickly ease the suffering and hunger on this grim ark of an island where only animals remain.