Haiti Veterinary and Animal Outreach Update

Lloyd Brown with Wildlife Rescue of Dade County deployed to Haiti as part of the Humane Society International (HSI) field assessment team. He is a long-time responder with various animal disaster groups both nationally and internationally. With his military background and wealth of experience, he brings sanity to the often-complicated politics of animal disaster field rescue and assessment. He was able to work with contacts in Dominican Republic to stage equipment, supplies, and a small team in preparation for going into Haiti. His mission: to do an "on the ground" assessment of the needs and issues involving animals and to report as soon as possible, as groups endeavor to plan for recovery after such a horrific tragedy.

I got the chance to do an interview of sorts with Lloyd via e-mail--as you can imagine, communication capabilities are at a premium. Here is the highlight of what we discussed:

Give me the overview--what are the animal issues in Haiti and are they a result of the earthquake, or were they there before?

Our team has been doing assessments for several days now and it is our professional opinion that animal issues here are not related to the event of the earthquake. There are a lot of animal issues here, but after speaking with a local American expatriate veterinarian here (who is very well connected in this country) we must agree with her that now is not the time to deal with them.

Examining a horse in Haiti

Lloyd examines a wound on a horse's chest.

Let me give you an example: If we were to set up a spay/neuter clinic while so many people are displaced and homeless, it could be disastrous--they don't understand neutering here. People are hungry, they have no homes, they have no shelter, they are sleeping in the streets. They don't understand the concept of a PET, they are an agricultural community--animals are for work or to sell food or to help them feed their families.

What is the commercial dairy/poultry/swine situation so that food can be produced for the people of Haiti?

Dairy producers here told us that their cows are producing less milk than before the event (probably due to stress and difficulty getting food and forage to them). There was a recent outbreak of a pig virus that the vet is very concerned with; perhaps a foreign animal disease? But it has nothing to do with the event.

At this time of year, most animals are turned out to pasture, which is where we found everyone. At the time of the earthquake, most animals were in the fields--and they are still there--keeping them out of the barns and structures.

The commercial poultry industry in this country was destroyed by an embargo years ago but still there are chickens to be found everywhere in yards, etc. We have seen many people carrying live roosters down the street cuddling them as pets. Hens are carried by the handful by their legs but there are plenty to be found.

Are there any horses and what shape are they in?

We have seen a lot of horses being ridden and for transportation of products, or in the fields. Most appear to be in good shape (considering that they are in Haiti). On two animals I found bridles that were far too tight and asked the owner if they could be adjusted. I saw many animals that are used for transport of products, everything from horses to donkeys and smaller burros. (These animals) are too valuable to eat unless they get sick.

What is the situation with companion animals--did you see any?

Dogs rescued in Haiti

HSI staff found two dogs abandoned when their owners had to evacuate.

Our team successfully removed two dogs owned by people who had to abandon them when they were forced to evacuate, and today we got them across the border into the Dominican Republic where they will be cared for by volunteers who run an animal rescue center there. We have been asked to look into the case of others. Owned pets are very rare here--most dogs and cats are feral and there are very few of them.

Is there a zoo in Haiti? Every time there is a major disaster, seems like the zoos have problems. How about theirs?

The only real logistical challenge was at the zoo, where they ran out of pigeon feed but I will get them resupplied through Dominican Republic. (You and I probably have more animals in the backyard than they have at this zoo.) It is a typical developing country zoo--structures are concrete with iron bars with little to no enrichment for the animals. They have one crocodile in an obscenely small pond and a few rabbits and birds. The one animal that we believe we can do the most for is a monkey, who inhabits a concrete cage with no enrichment materials. The volunteers in DR are planning to take this on as a project to help to improve the zoo.

This is low hanging fruit--helping the animals and helping Haitians understand about better educational opportunities and management for their zoo.

Collapsed house in Haiti

A collapsed house.

What is the logistical scenario?

Animal care products (while sometimes hard to get) are available. They are (relatively) easily purchased in Dominican Republic and carried across into Haiti. We've had no trouble getting anything we wanted to, including vet drugs for the veterinarians in Haiti.

Roads are compromised. This is a very mountainous country and there were landslides all over the place. Most have been cleared as of Jan. 25 but only to one lane open. There were times that we had to wait on traffic, but we could get through eventually. Near where I believe the epicenter to have been, there is place in the road where it is split very dramatically. All roads are heavily congested and traffic is a challenge... but that is not much different from "normal" in a country with very few improved roads.

We have heard that there are major shortages of produce and food... is that true?

While there are shortages of food in the Haitian camp areas in the major city area, a short walk finds sidewalks filled to overflowing with fresh produce of all kinds. There is no shortage of food there at the markets. A shortage of money to purchase it, but not a shortage of food products available.

There is no doubt that this area has been hit very hard by the recent earthquake and aftershocks continue. The human situation here for many is dire, especially in the capital--while for others, there seems to have been little to no damage. It is obvious that there were varying degrees of construction quality. One building will be knocked flat while the building right next to it seems unaffected.

What can people in the United States do to assist the animals the most?

Send money to the groups that are already operating in Haiti and stay home--this is NO PLACE for people who don't have their shots, don't speak French/Creole or have expertise in field rescue and assessment. Soon these organizations will be coordinating to assist the Haitians with setting up commercial production of food animals, vaccinating to prevent a rabies outbreak, providing assistance with treating livestock used for transportation, etc. Support their volunteers, but stay home.

More information and updates from Humane Society International.  

A group created to address the needs of animals in Haiti, the Animal Relief Coalition for Haiti can be supported via the International Fund for Animal Welfare, or World Society for the Protection of Animals.

About the Author

Rebecca Gimenez, PhD

Rebecca Gimenez, BS, PhD (animal physiology), is the primary instructor and President of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue. Her first book, Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, was published in 2008. She is an internationally sought instructor in technical rescue techniques, procedures, and methodologies, and she has published numerous critiques, articles and journal submissions on horse safety, technical large animal rescue and horse handling issues.

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