69: A Hundred Feet of Hope in a Thousand-Year Flood Zone

69: A Hundred Feet of Hope in a Thousand-Year Flood Zone

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America

A Hundred Feet of Hope in a Thousand-Year Flood Zone

When the world says, “Give up,” Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.”

~Author Unknown

The water in the living room was still waist-deep. Furniture scattered everywhere like two people had been wrestling for hours. The stench? Well, some things are better left unsaid.

But you could hear it coming from upstairs: the unmistakable mews of frightened cats. Cats desperate for food, water, veterinary help, and, most of all, the loving embrace of their family.

There we were in Georgetown County, South Carolina, responding to the “thousand-year flood” that had devastated the Palmetto State in October 2015. American Humane Association’s Red Star Rescue team had traveled all over the state in the past few days to rescue animals and help pet owners get the supplies their furry friends so desperately needed but couldn’t get because roads and stores were still closed because of the deluge.

As the team relocated from the capital city of Columbia in the middle of the state to this coastal community, we began hearing reports that there were animals trapped in homes. When the floodwaters started to climb higher and higher, desperate families were forced to evacuate. Many didn’t know what to do with their pets, and left them behind with a supply of food, hoping their separation would be short.

This flood, however, was different. Folks in South Carolina who’d lived there for generations had never seen rising waters quite like this. True to the term, it might be another millennium before such an event happens there again.

Fortunately, my team knew what to do.

Many of my fellow Red Star team members had been on countless deployments to help animals in disaster situations around the country. The staff is the best-trained group in the country to handle emergency situations involving animals. Our corps of volunteer responders is a group of highly trained Americans from all walks of life — from secretaries to firefighters to animal control officers to animal lovers of all types — who take off work and deploy at a moment’s notice whenever and wherever animals need them. We couldn’t do our work without them; they are true heroes.

We loaded up our two 50-foot Lois Pope Red Star Rescue Vehicles, outfitted with everything our team needs to rescue, shelter, care for, and even transport animals. “One hundred feet of hope” was soon on its way.

Then it was time for us to outfit ourselves: flood zones are dirty and real health hazards. Think of all the gunk, motor oil, and other detritus that builds up on roadways, parking lots, and in sewers, and imagine that all getting mixed up in floodwaters. Not the kind of place you’d like to take a dip. Any bit of it on your skin could cause an infection.

Animals who have been exposed to floodwaters are susceptible to illness, and if one of them were to scratch or bite us, the bacteria on their claws or teeth could pass on to us. So we were in full-body suits to keep ourselves protected.

Utilizing a brand-new boat purchased specifically for this deployment, we ventured out into the waters that covered the streets and yards, unsure of what we’d find.

We found animals stranded in homes. The ones who were in good enough shape were left to “shelter in place,” meaning they would be safe there and we would continue to check-in on them and give them food and water until the waters receded enough for their families to come home.

*  *  *

Just a few weeks before this deployment, I had come on board as the national leader of this historic team, celebrating its 100th birthday in 2016.

Clearly, I had some big, big shoes to fill.

American Humane Association’s Red Star Rescue program was born on the battlefields of Europe in 1916. Our organization’s president received a letter from U.S. Secretary of War Newton Baker urging America’s first national humane organization to travel across the pond and care for the horses involved in battle. The Great War, as it’s now known, was the last major global conflict to employ an equine cavalry, and the casualties were piling up.

American Humane Association served as the equivalent of the Red Cross for animals, and even before our boys saw action, the Red Star team was caring for 68,000 horses a month who were wounded in battle.

Once the war was over, our team turned its efforts primarily (but not exclusively) to the home front, and became America’s leading disaster response team for animals.

During the past century, Red Star has been involved in virtually every major disaster relief effort, from Pearl Harbor to 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Joplin, Missouri and Moore, Oklahoma tornadoes, the Japanese and Haitian earthquakes, the Mount St. Helen’s eruption, and Superstorm Sandy.

Our team also responds to major animal cruelty cases and hoarding situations, helping to give animals in abusive situations second chances at life. Over just the past ten years Red Star teams have saved, helped and sheltered more than 80,000 animals.

When we’re not responding to help animals in need, our team educates communities and pet owners so that whenever Mother Nature unleashes her fury, Americans everywhere are prepared to protect their best friends.

*  *  *

As we made our way through the waters we got word of forty-six cats trapped in a home, seeking escape from the deep water. Gingerly, we made our way into the home where we could hear the cries of the cats emanating from the upper floors.

To the cats, the sight of our team, wearing biohazard suits with helmets and carrying nets and crates, was not comforting. Their whole world had been turned upside down by the flooding, and all of a sudden the first people they saw were complete strangers dressed like aliens from outer space.

It took quite a while, but we were able to catch most of the cats (some had escaped to the roof, so all we could do was leave them food and water to shelter in place). Before they could be taken to our temporary shelter, they had to be decontaminated from their exposure to the floodwaters.

As is the goal with all deployments, we were able to reunite the cats with their owners once the crisis had ended.

Grateful families look at us as their pets’ saviors. But to us, it’s just another day in the life of American Humane Association’s Red Star Rescue team, and the dawn of a new century of saving animals in need.

~Randy Collins

Editor’s note: To learn more about the Red Star Rescue program or to support their lifesaving efforts, please visit AmericanHumane.org.

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