I have the pleasure to share the story of two sisters Shari and Stephanie who created a nonprofit company called S.O.S Rescue Relief Inc and The Adopt Pet Shop that is focus on felines.
It all started after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 29, 2005. For Shari and Stephanie, it wasn’t enough to give money, they felt the call to go there and help the animals. Both sisters are animal lovers, after the devastation in New Orleans they both decided to go. Without any formal training in animal disaster rescue they packed up and went to Taylor Town Mississippi located near New Orleans where an animal sanctuary called Best Friends Animal Society set up camp and brought back animals from the city and set up safe areas.
They stayed at the base-camp and started to work with the team and seeing the horrible condition the animals that were left behind where in. It was a dire situation and time was of the essence to rescue every single one of them. Volunteers from all around the country were working by their side to help the animals. It was a life changing experience. After their first trip to New Orleans they came back home but decided to go back to continue to help.
With the “hands on” experience they decided to take formal classes including FEMA and disaster rescue certifications for animals. They started to work with Best Friends Animal Society as part of their rapid response team getting additional training with them. They went to hoarding situations, one of them was where animals were airlifted out of Beirut, they went to the Sanctuary based in Utah and helped with the animals. Both sisters are specialized in feline relief rescue, they spent their time working with the cats that were scared and sick. It was the ugly part of the rescue process but also rewarding when they could help them overcome the horror they went through.
Both sisters were contacted by Best Friends Animal Society to help them in another horrifying situation out of Nevada where 800 cats where hoarding under the label “animal sanctuary” that sanctuary was in a desert on 2 acres of fenced property. Best Friends Animal Society stayed over there for 7 months onsite to rescue them. It was a terrible situation where animals where in poor shape and needed to be moved out of that property. They brought almost 30 cats back in Minnesota, 3 of them are still living with Shari.
Both sisters worked at ground zero in those massive rescue relief. The hardest part was to go over the hump with those situations but then, what is next for the animals? Where are the animals going? Getting them rescued and healthy was the easier part but you need to find a forever home for them. What their idea was, was to get in partnership with other rescue groups to help find these animals a home.
What a better way to do that by becoming the outlet. Most rescues deal with dogs not many are specializing in felines. With their combined knowledge and understanding they were able to focus on helping cats. They set up the Adopt Pet Shop that provides a space for them but also cares for them, their mission is to match them with the right family. They need to be well vetted prior to their adoption, they deserved to be in an environment where they can be safe, good and not at risk because we are also a no kill group.
“We believe cats should be indoors, we understand some cats are outdoor cats but ours’ needs to stay indoors. We are that group and spare no expense to take care of them. We do not have a time limit on getting them adopted. We would love to have them moving sooner so we can help other cats that need a forever home.
We are working with other rescue groups to get their cats out of their foster homes and get them to a venue like Adopt Pet Shop, so they have a chance to be seen and adopted. For example, if you have 10 Persians located in different foster homes it would be cumbersome for someone to complete each application and to visit each one of them. Our thoughts are to provide that space so they can all be in the same location. We have a limited space, but we are actively working with other rescue groups. This is how it all started first be in the trenches working in animal disaster recovery. Going to New Orleans we learned a lot from the experts, it is eye opening to do rescue. You see things you would never imagine it also breaks your heart too. There were times after 16-hour days you would go behind a building and would cry. It is so emotionally draining like PTSD; you see not only devastation but people who are frantically searching for their pets. It is awful when natural disasters strike but also, we have the intentional man-made disasters like hoarding. The example of the 800 cats put in the situation of 2 acres fenced compound with the label sanctuary located in the middle of the desert, with an electrify fence around.”
“It seems there is a gap and lack at the level of the law to reinforce and make people accountable. There are a lot of us who are advocates in these regards. After Katrina they finally changed the law to make it more strict because they took away pets during the evacuation. Not allowing them to follow their owners otherwise they would not have been able to go on the bus. Those are heartbreaking situations and many people refused to leave for that reason and some did perish because they could not abandon their pets after the levees failed to contain the water. We could see dogs standing on the top of car roofs. Most people who evacuated thought they would be back in the couple of days, but it wasn’t the case. Now during an evacuation, they cannot take away the pets. It took this kind of disaster to change the law.”
During the flooding they went from house to house to search for the animals and pull them out and bring them to safety. They would bring a big refrigerated truck at around 2:00 AM to bring people to the city so volunteers could continue to search. they would bring all kinds of pets, everything that was living they brought back. People where asking them to go and save their pets, they would go out with their headlights on trying to find them. Some of them where in bad shape. It was hard to see that.
At the camp there were other teams that would work on identifying pets’ owners. Shari and Stephanie were in the team that focused on the animal care. Best Friends Animal Society out of Utah is the largest sanctuary group in the US.
“It is an emotional business when you are going through rescue relief situations. With that in mind our priority is the animal welfare first. We are extremely meticulous when we are going through the process of having one of the cats adopted, we have seen so many bad things. They do not have a voice and we need to change the law here, to protect them.”
Currently the law in the U.S. considers pets as property, the law needs to change. In other countries animals are not considered properties anymore. There is a law called the Pet’s Act where disaster FEMA must make provision for animals to be evacuated with their owners.
“Because we have handled over thousands of felines, we have a deep knowledge on their behaviors from cats that would not use their litter boxes, or their behaviors are not manageable. We are helping owners to keep their feline at home but also provide them with valuable information. Like a human, animals should be taken to the vet for a yearly check up as they are aging, they need to be taken care of.”