Tsunami update, August 2005

Eight months have passed since the tsunami poured over the shores of so many Asian countries. Tens of thousands of animals have been rescued from disaster.

Your tremendous generosity, and the generosity of many organizations and people all working together have made this success possible.

We have some special thank you’s and some special requests.

Our most special thank you goes out to each of you who have donated to the Best Friends Tsunami Animal Relief Fund. Thanks to you the lives of all these animals have been saved. Dogs and cats whose homes, families or villages were swept away in the tsunami were provided with food, shelter, clean water, vaccinations against disease, and spaying/neutering to prevent further disaster. Many farm animals and wild animals were helped as well.

Some companies have been especially generous! Our very special thanks and gratitude go to PETsMART Charities, Pet Supplies Plus and CHH Trust and to their customers who have given very significantly and who have made a huge difference to the success of the relief fund!

As we all know, the damage from disasters on this scale cannot be repaired in the space of a few short months, and the Best Friends Tsunami Animal Relief Fund will continue to provide help through the end of this year. Your help is still very much needed.

As this relief effort began, Best Friends decided to give directly to local Asian animal organizations who were already at work on the ground in the affected areas. This decision turned out to have been a very wise one, and the funds made available were spent right where they were most needed by people familiar with the local conditions.

We’d like again to thank Animal People for contacts with people and organizations that they very kindly provided to us.

The Relief Effort So Far:

In giving a summary of where the relief effort stands now, of what has been accomplished and what still needs to be done, we’d like to start with the most challenging and most difficult situation, which has, from the beginning, been the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

These islands are a remote part of India, located on the other side of the Indian Ocean just north of Sumatra, the point where the tsunami originated. These very poor, very inaccessible islands were catastrophically damaged by the tsunami.

Apart from on the main island, where the capital Port Blair is located, the islanders are indigenous people, who still live largely cut off from contact with modern life, a fact that has complicated the logistics of getting relief into these areas.

The geography of the islands was dramatically altered by the tsunami. Part of the islands have sunk and are now permanently under the sea. The fields that remain have been destroyed by salt water, which means that the cows have no food. There is no grass, or anything else, for them to eat. Some of the cows have died as a result. Funds are needed now so that concentrated food for the cows can be imported from the Indian mainland, until the fields can be restored.

Animal relief effort on the islands has been carried out by

Kartick Satyanarayan of Wildlife SOS and Dr. Geeta Seshamani of Friendicoes SECA who traveled all the way from Delhi and stayed on the islands for several months working directly with the people and the animals. Eventually, they had to return to mainland India to take care of all the other rescued animals back at their shelter. Before leaving, they set up local teams to carry on the work, and, back on the mainland, they’ve been training a veterinarian, who will be returning to his home on the islands to help with the relief efforts.

Their hope now is to have the resources to be able to complete the two permanent hospitals and shelters that they have begun, which will provide permanent veterinary care for the island dogs and cats. And, of course, they very much want to be able to bring in concentrated food for the cows who have no source of food and no food supplies left on the islands.

They both wished to express to all of you their gratitude for all the help you have given. Kartick wrote recently, "All of you gave us courage… and allowed us to help the people and animals of the islands rebuild their lives. … our thanks go to Best Friends whose continued help allows us to go on…Best Friends has undoubtedly been a true friend in a calamity and all the animals that survived thanks to their generous donations send on their blessings."

From southern India, Pradeep Nath of the Visakha SPCA writes that "the dark times of the tsunami have provided us with an opportunity to do good…We are particularly thankful to Best Friends…We profusely thank every one of you for being a part of these rebuilding measures and helping us secure a happier place for the animals who have such difficult lives."

Visakha SPCA is the only animal welfare organization along the three hundred fifty mile Andhra Pradesh coastline. They have taken full responsibility for all the animals of their own city and for animals in twenty of the villages up and down the coastline where the tsunami struck.

Visakha SPCA is located on several acres in the city Vishakhapatnam, right on the Indian east coast midway between Calcutta and Madras. Lush green tropical plants tower over the white buildings, and cats and cows peep through the foliage. As well as all the hours spent aiding the tsunami animals along the coast, they’ve continued all their normal workload caring for animals from further inland; dogs, cats, cows, birds, and even abused cobras!

Pradeep and his team were immensely grateful for the ten-day visit of Dr. Rich Bachman and vet tech Mike Bannasch, jointly sponsored by the AVAR (Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights) and by Best Friends. The AVAR team brought with them vaccines, along with upgraded medical equipment and taught them medical protocols that will allow speedier release after spaying/neutering, which is essential for treating community-owned, tsunami dogs and cats.

Thanks to your donations, they were able to purchase a much-needed vehicle, and Pradeep Nath writes that they are now expanding their operations beyond the twenty villages to offer regular aid all up and down the Andhra Pradesh coast, including the remotest areas. They are organizing and training networks of volunteers, and he hopes that they’ll be able to provide on-going, comprehensive services to all the tsunami animals who depend on their help.

Though Pradeep is modest about the accomplishments of the Visakha SPCA team, it is easy to see even from far away, that their countless days and nights of exhausting work and selfless dedication after the tsunami have saved the lives of many thousands of animals throughout that part of India.

Instead of focusing on the tragic losses in their own lives, they simply set to work the very day of the tsunami, and in the weeks and months following, combing the destroyed coastline, caring for every animal in need of help.

Robert Blumberg of the Tsunami People-Animal Welfare Coalition, that was formed on Sri Lanka following the tsunami has been sending reports of great progress. The initial days were, as everywhere, unbelievably difficult.

There were fears, even being reported in the local newspapers, that vast packs of out-of control dogs were forming and that there would have to be mass euthanizations. The relief workers worked day and night, not only providing food and water for all the animals, but also vaccinations and spaying/neutering to stave off the combined threats of a population explosion, aggressive dog packs and fears of rabies, a not uncommon disease in southern Asia.

Due to their heroic efforts, along with the help of many foreign groups, among them Humane Society International and Vier Pfoten of Austria, the situation was brought well under control. Fears were quelled, and enormous progress has been made.

The Tsunami People-Animal Welfare Coalition has vaccinated 14,000 animals in the tsunami zones. The vaccinations protect against diseases, including rabies, and, just as importantly, they protect the animals from people’s fears that they may be dangerous.

They’ve set up veterinary clinics and do regular mobile veterinary trips for vaccination and spaying/neutering. They’ve had great success at inspiring lots of teamwork and the visible support of local officials.

When the teams arrive at a village or refugee camp, tents are set up; and the animals are brought to them, on foot, bicycle or motorbike. This also provides a great opportunity to educate on-lookers as they congregate in and around the tents watching with fascination all the work being done for the animals!

The Tsunami People-Animal Welfare Coalition of Sri Lanka hopes to be able to continue all their outstanding work to save the tsunami animals and provide them with all the conditions needed for happy, healthy lives.

Robert Blumberg sends his heartfelt thanks to all of you. "Thank you! Best Friends through their special Tsunami Aid collection has been one of our biggest supporters—helping to vaccinate and sterilize in the tsunami zones and refugee camps!"

A huge thank you to each of you who have given with your thoughts, prayers and generosity to help each of these animals! Dogs, cats, goats, cows, chickens, sea turtles and so many other innocent creatures have been saved from the tsunami’s devastation by a kind and caring hand!