PAWS Magazine

 

Issue 50, Fall 2001

 

From Terror comes Compassion

by Richard Huffman

As in offices across the country, PAWS staff was deeply affected by the news of the terrorist attacks on September 11. Many staff members left immediately for blood banks. Others called the American Red Cross to donate money. As the magnitude of loss filtered in, it became a difficult, almost impossible day to get work done.

Many found solace among animals. The Lynnwood shelter was overwhelmed with visitors, silently wandering the kennels. Few animals were adopted that day, but many people were comforted by the unconditional love and affection offered by the cats and dogs at PAWS.

FedEx Truck

For Robbin Jones, PAWS Development Director, the attacks caused considerable anguish. But that anguish turned quickly into a resolve which helped her formulate a plan that would allow Seattle residents to help thousands of victims and their companion animals. “We had a meeting that morning with the Seattle Parks Department at Gas Works Park,” says Robbin. “We were finalizing the plans for Bark in the Park, and really, we were going through the motions; the enormity of the tragedy hadn’t hit us. It was a beautiful, sunny, cloudless day, and we started to realize that no planes were taking off from Lake Union, and none flying overhead from Boeing Field or Sea-Tac. We knew at that point that things were going to be different.”

Jones thought of the companion animal shelters near Ground Zero in Manhattan. “What would we need if we were in their shoes?” thought Jones. “What would we need to respond to the influx of animals that were orphaned or abandoned in all of those apartments around Battery Park? We thought that they would need food, blankets, dog toys—all of the basics.”

PAWS put an open call out residents of the greater Seattle area to bring donations to PAWS in Lynnwood, PAWS Cat City in Seattle, and at PAWS Bark in the Park. Initially, Jones wasn’t sure if PAWS was doing the right thing. “I tried to phone all of the New York companion animal shelters every hour for two and a half days solid, but their phone lines were down,” says Jones.

She called colleagues at other relief agencies who had experience with disaster recovery efforts. “They said that it is critical to do something early, don’t wait,” says Jones.

Finally on Thursday afternoon, two days after the attacks, Jones got through to Sandra DeFeo, of the Humane Society of New York. Located in mid-town Manhattan, they are well-known for providing low-cost and free veterinary services for local animals, as well as adopting thousands of cats and dogs from their shelter. “Her response when I told her our plan was: ‘what day will the food arrive?’, says Jones.

“It will be a Godsend,” DeFeo told Jones. “It’s exactly what we need, and if I know for sure that it’s coming I can tell people it’s coming and give them hope.”

DeFeo described the tragedy. Hundreds of animals were left in evacuated apartment buildings at Ground Zero. That morning, authorities had finally began allowing the Humane Society of New York and the ASPCA into the cordoned off apartments to rescue abandoned animals. All of the glass had been blown out of the windows of most apartments, so the water bowls had been filled with dust and debris. There was dust in the cats’ and dogs’ eyes, and they were still breathing it in. It was noisy and frightening, and the animals hadn’t seen a kind human face in days. In one apartment, a cat was killed by the blast, and her brother had spent two scared days lying next to her scared body. DeFeo was able to rescue him and put him in foster care until he could be reunited with his human companion.

The Humane Society of New York had sent volunteers down to the evacuee shelters, to survey victims who had been forced to leave their animals behind in apartments. Ultimately they will be able to match animals with their people.

Jones was still struggling with how to ship the food to New York. PAWS volunteer Marc Rousseau helped by contacting his former employer at Longview Fiber, who donated almost 200 cardboard boxes, perfect for packing canned food. But with flights only just getting back on track, Jones was having trouble securing shipping. Fortunately PAWS’ friends at the Seattle Animal Shelter were able to help.

Christine Titus of Seattle Animal Shelter called to offer help, which Jones gratefully accepted. Titus was able to use her connections to secure the donated help of FedEx, which agreed to ship all of the donations for free to New York City. PAWS and Seattle Animal Shelter joined forces at that point and jointly collected donations at all of their locations.

The response from the public was phenomenal. PAWS Board Member Avery Danzig Kohn called vendors coming to Bark in the Park and encouraged them to bring donations and ask their customers to bring donations. A special booth was set up for donations at Bark in the Park, which was ultimately filled to the top with food, toys, and blankets. PAWS received news coverage from Bark in the Park, which in turn helped generate more donations in the days that followed. By the following Wednesday, more than 5,000 pounds of donated supplies had been collected.

Neither PAWS or the Seattle Animal Shelter had room to store the donations. Fortunately Margaret Rose and the folks at Northlynn Storage in Lynnwood donated space in their facility.

PAWS decided to turn all of its on-line donations from the www.thegivingnetwork.com site to the Humane Society of New York. Including cash donations collected at Bark in the Park, PAWS collected almost $10,000 in one week, earmarked for disaster relief.

Plans were set for the donations to be picked up by FedEx on Wednesday, eight days after the attacks. Already swamped with food and toys, Jones found room for one final important donation.

“We kept hearing reports that dogs and cats in New York were having tremendous difficulty with dust and debris in their eyes and noses. They were in desperate need of saline,” says Jones. Enter Neal Deruyter, facility caretaker at PAWS Olympic Wildlife Rescue. Deruyter called his friends at Northwest Medical Teams, who donated an entire pallet of concentrated saline.

FedEx showed up at the Northlynn storage unit on Wednesday. They had cleared the schedule of their driver; he was there to help PAWS and the Seattle Animal Shelter for the entire day. Ultimately, the entire FedEx truck was filled completely. “We weren’t sure that we were going to be able to shut the door!” says Jones.

“We were concerned that just sending a giant donation of food would only add to their workload in New York,” says Jones. “So Christine and I arranged for flights to New York to meet FedEx at the shelter and help out in any way we could.”

Titus and Jones flew on a red-eye to New York’s JFK Airport. They met the FedEx truck at the New York Humane Society at 10:30 am. “Sandra DeFeo came out and met us,” says Jones. “We began unloading the donations into their lobby. Pretty soon everyone from the shelter was coming out to help. We lined their stairwells, stacked food in their food room, and set up a relief center where victims could come and take what they need. People were telling us how amazed and touched that the people of Seattle cared so much.”

Jones met many victims, and was touched by many stories of hope. Perhaps no story was more touching than that of David and Penny. David lived in Brooklyn, but worked a bar very close to the World Trade Center. He lived from paycheck to paycheck, but had a steady job. All that changed on September 11. His bar was closed and David was laid off. David was beside himself with grief; his bar’s clientele was almost exclusively people who had worked in the World Trade Center. His one solace was his Staffordshire Terrier Penny, the sweetest girl imaginable.

Penny got sick in the days following the attack. She was whimpering and urinating blood. At any other time, David would have been able to take Penny to the vet; but with no job, little money, and a heavy heart, he was short on options. So he called the Humane Society of New York. They told him to bring in Penny right away and they would see him free of charge.

Penny had a bladder infection, and the Humane Society veterinarians gave her much-needed antibiotics. They made arrangements to spay her, also free of charge. They gave David a giant 50 pound bag of donated Seattle dog food, and a big box of donated dog cookies. As Robbin put a PAWS Bark in the Park bandana around Penny’s neck, David began to cry. “I don’t know what I would have done,” David said. “Just knowing that I am going to be able to take care of her during this time is giving me all the hope in the world.”

Jones and Titus spent the rest of the day distributing food, blankets, toys, and lots of extra Bark in the Park bandanas and T-shirts.

“It was the saddest, and the most hopeful experience of my life,” says Jones. “All of these people and their animals have been helped, and have began the process of rebuilding their lives. “It was so wonderful to see America coming together to help during such a trying time. When I got back to Seattle, I began to realize that as New York City’s needs began to be met, the needs right here at PAWS continue. Our shelter is still full, and our wildlife centers are still helping hundreds of animals. We need our supporters to help us continue to help the thousands of animals will see in the coming months.”

Like other local charities, PAWS has seen a tremendous drop in donations since September 11th. “People have continued to generously support the disaster relief work in New York and Washington D.C., and for us it means a loss in revenue,” says Jones. “This is typically the time of year when we make up for all the medical expenses and animal food and such that we had to pay for all summer. We’re worried about what will happen if donations continue to be directed towards East coast efforts.”

“There are so many things people can do to help us help the animals. Adopt. Volunteer – we’ve lost many volunteers because of the regional layoffs. Give. A $27 donation will allow us to give a dog or cat coming into the shelter a veterinary checkup and all the necessary vaccinations. $175 will feed all the dogs and cats in the shelter for a whole week. $65 will allow us to do diagnostic lab work on two emaciated seabirds. We are at a time when we really, really need the help of our members.” To help PAWS help animals, please use the remit envelope in the center of this magazine, or visit us on-line at www.paws.org.

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