Pets in Distress? Relief Command Center Is There to Help

When a major flood strikes a community, and Fido's owners have evacuated the area, who're you going to call?

The "rolling disaster relief command center!"

Actually, it's a sleek, well-outfitted, 75-foot trailer truck that is used to rescue injured or lost animals caught in most types of disasters.

The roving vehicle - which houses nine rescue workers and is equipped with inflatable and motor boats, a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and a communications office - serves as both a mobile animal shelter and veterinary clinic. Project HEART (Humane Emergency Animal Relief Team), as it is called, is sponsored by the American Humane Association.

Last month, the truck was dispatched to Kentucky for two weeks during the Midwest flooding, where a four-person team manned a temporary shelter in the town of Falmouth.

The crew helped return 20 to 30 lost animals to their owners, friends of owners, or boarding kennels, says Doug Trowbridge, Humane Association field services director. Rescue workers also helped bail out the flooded Humane Association shelter in Frankfort that was under five feet of water.

"This was our first disaster where Project HEART was brought to the site. It worked well," Mr. Trowbridge says.

Resources for rescuing pets are minimal during disasters, says Nick Gilman, a Project HEART crew member. Rescue workers trying to save animals have difficulty getting hold of boats and other rescue aids during floods. Rental cars and hotel rooms are scarce as well. That's where Project HEART comes in, says Mr. Gilman.

"We don't take away from local resources, we add to them," he says.

The American Humane Association has been rescuing animals from disaster since 1916. In 1994, during flooding in Albany, Ga., crews rescued more than 800 animals in 10 days.

"We could see cats and dogs on top of their houses," says Gilman. "People had been successfully moved, but there was no [help] for the animals."

The new truck, which made its debut last fall, is based at office headquarters in Denver. When not involved in rescue work, Project HEART acts as a spay/neuter clinic for pets in inner cities, on Indian reservations, and in rural areas. Last fall, the Project HEART crew traveled to Long Island, N.Y., Boston, and St. Louis and met with animal shelter groups as part of a publicity tour.

Anticipating more flooding in the Midwest, Project HEART crew members will soon be traveling to the St. Louis area.

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