Citizens, SPCA officials cope with four-legged Mt. St. Helens victims

When Mt. St. Helens erupted, rescue teams immediately helped remove people trapped in the area. But what happened to the family pets, the farm livestock, the herds of elk, and other animals in the areas surrounding Mt. St. Helens?

An estimated 10,000 animals were killed in the eruption. But efforts by local humane societies, volunteers, and rescue team from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA), extracted hundred of animals from mudslides or other places where they were marooned or trapped.

Domestic pets stayed at temporary shelters until they could be returned to their owners or given new homes; farm animals were relocated; and food was provided to wildlife foraging in the barren woods and fields.

Surviving animals all too easily are forgotten in disasters, according to two MSPCA officers sent by the society to aid in the rescue efforts.

"People don't usually think about them," says Officer Richard LeBlond, "but if no one rescues them, they'll suffer and may cause a problem to others. If they're hungry or hurt, they may damage property when hunting for relief. Disease may break out. And wandering packs of dogs, for example, may hurt people nearby."

Following the eruption, Officers LeBlond and Peter Oberton, specialists in disaster relief for animals, worked with 50 to 100 local volunteers, the Army, and the National Guard in locating and feeding abandoned or trapped animals. They rescued about 200 animals and fed roughly 2,000.

Local humane societies in Washington set up mutual aid plans when Mt. St. Helens first started acting up.

"Because of this, we had an excellent respnse when the mountain blew," says Don Krautz, acting director of the Cowlitz County Humane Society. The local societies concentrated on domestic pets while the Massachusetts contingent dealt with wildlife.

But Officer LeBlond and his colleague say the eruption underscores the need for a national disaster program for animals, available to all humane societies.

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