Since last January’s earthquake in Haiti, a coalition of animal organizations has been working tirelessly to give aid to the country’s dogs, cats and other animals, and to rebuild and improve its veterinary services.
It’s been eight months since Haiti was devastated by a powerful 7.0 magnitude earthquake – the worst in 200 years. Since then, dozens of organizations from around the world have been helping the people of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas to rebuild their lives and homes.
Along with the millions of people affected by the catastrophe were many thousands of dogs, cats, livestock and other animals. Just days after the quake hit, the World Society for the Protection of Animals and the International Fund for Animal Welfare founded the Animal Relief Coalition for Haiti. Also known as ARCH, the coalition has numerous partners including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Best Friends Animal Society, the American Humane Association and many more. To date, ARCH has treated at least 27,000 animals in Haiti and is helping rebuild the country’s veterinary infrastructure.
“We formed ARCH in an effort to better coordinate the work of animal welfare groups,” says Dr. Gerardo Huertas, a veterinarian and Disaster Operations Director for the Americas at WSPA. “As one coalition, we worked very closely with Haitian government officials, the United Nations and other international agencies to define the country’s most pressing animal-related problems. That first step…was critical to ARCH being able to deliver aid quickly to as many animals as possible. And it has enabled us to work together in developing a long-term plan for Haitians to better protect themselves – and their animals – against future disasters.”
After the earthquake, ARCH’s project manager Keven Degenhard, and Haiti-based veterinarian Dr. Jean Francois Thomas, trained a local team of three veterinarians, three vet techs and two security personnel. The backbone of the operation is ARCH’s mobile veterinary clinic, which allows the team to travel into earthquake-stricken neighborhoods and provide aid and vaccinations to thousands of dogs, cats, horses, cattle, goats and other animals.
“Our original goal was to treat 14,000 animals in one year,” says Keven. “But in the first two months, our team of ten people had already treated 12,700 animals. Today, we’ve far surpassed the 25,000 mark. I’m just so impressed with the way we all came together as a team.”
One of the many animals helped was a dog named Dick. “He was badly injured by a falling wall,” says Dr. Huertas. “He couldn’t walk when we saw him, but after treatment he was back on his feet. His family was very happy to see him walk again.” Another dog showed up at the clinic in the arms of a young boy who wouldn’t tell anyone the animal’s name. “When asked why, he said his dog’s name was in his heart only, and he didn’t want anyone else to know it because he loved him so much,” says Dr. Huertas.
ARCH is also repairing the wall around Haiti’s National Veterinary Laboratory and main lab infrastructure, which fell during the earthquake, and is installing 24 solar-powered refrigeration units, which are critical to storing animal vaccinations.
While much has been achieved since the earthquake, the coalition recognizes that a long-lasting solution to adequate animal care in Haiti is only possible through continued education. “The more people we inform – either through the public medium or through schools – the more people are actually going to have their animals treated,” said Keven. “And if people see we’re helping them prevent disease in animals, and disease in themselves, then I think they’ll embrace further developments in animal care as years go by.”
ARCH has recently launched a public awareness campaign called Publigestion, designed to educate Haitians about disaster preparedness, animal care and health issues related to their animals and families. “The educational program is actually twofold,” says Dr. Huertas. “One part covers disaster preparedness, so people can prepare themselves and their animals for the next hurricane season or quake. The other covers basic health care.” Dr. Huertas adds that most dogs in Haiti are not trained to walk on a leash. “They used the weirdest leashes you could ever imagine, like pants and shirts, to bring their dogs to our clinic,” says Dr. Huertas.
ARCH is also conducting Haiti’s first ever dog and cat survey, which will help establish a baseline for evaluating the country’s animal population, the incidence of rabies, lab equipment needs and other factors. “Interestingly, we found that large numbers of animals in Portau- Prince are owned as opposed to the urban myth that most are on the streets,” Dr. Huertas points out. “Fewer than 20% of the homes we have interviewed so far have no dogs.”
No matter what challenges Haiti may face in the future, ARCH is confident that its people will be much better prepared. “January 12 was a very strong wakeup call for everybody in the country,” says Dr. Thomas. “We will never let ourselves be caught by surprise again.”