PORTLAND, Ore. -- Ever since Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, the U.S. has seen one natural disaster after another and a number of organizations, including the Oregon Humane Society, are busier than ever.
It started with Harvey, then there was Hurricane Irma, then came Maria.
Volunteers and staff with OHS have been there to help animals each time, and as a result they've been stretched thin. Now, OHS has someone in Santa Barbara helping animals in fire-ravaged areas.
“We got the call to come down this past weekend,” said Brian August, chief operating officer of OHS.
We spoke with him via FaceTime. He's in Southern California where homes and hillsides are scorched.
“Looked like something out of the movies, the restricted quarantine zones,” August said.
He said some animals were left behind in the chaos as their owners rushed, having very little time, to get out of dangerous fire evacuation areas. From backyard chickens without food or water, to cats, to turtles; he and others have tried their best to help them all.
“There was a turtle on its back covered in a layer of ash, which means it probably been on its back for quite a few days. I wasn't sure if it was still alive. I flipped the turtle back over and it of course hissed at me, and started moving its legs. I've never been so excited to hear something hiss at me before,” said August.
Volunteers and staff have responded to many other disaster zones too.
“We're on the list if something happens,” said Sharon Harmon, president of OHS. “Unfortunately with these disasters, when it rains it pours.”
A couple people just got back this week from the island of St. Croix, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria. We spoke with two women who also recently got back from the island.
“The impact that the storm had on the island was incredible and also horrific,” said Kayte Wolf.
The storm wiped out homes and fences, leaving horses and livestock to roam freely in unsafe areas.
They said caring for so many animals was hard work. It was made more difficult by limited water and supplies. But there were bright moments that included puppies being adopted out and a horse named Chester being reunited with his family.
“We reunited a couple of horses with a couple of owners and they were super ecstatic. They were in tears and just so grateful to have their animal back,” said Melanie Anderson, an OHS employee who also recently returned from St. Croix.
It's these small, meaningful moments that fuel people who have a heart for animals.
“When you're physically and emotional tired and you're just trying to get through the day and you see that, you realize the impact you're doing and you get to see the happy end. And that's the best outcome scenario for sure,” Anderson said.
August said a touching moment in Southern California involved a note he found on a door. He found the note when he approached the home to check on chickens in the backyard. It thanked emergency responders and said the homeowners would torch their own house if it would bring back the firefighter who died last week fighting the Thomas Fire. The writer asked responders not to risk their lives to save the property.
August plans to hit the road from Santa Barbara back up to Oregon on Friday. He's hoping to drive a van filled with dogs from the shelter in Santa Barbara.
He said these kinds of efforts are all thanks to the support and donations from animal lovers. People can donate on the Oregon Humane Society's website.
Harmon said OHS responds to both natural as well as man-made disasters. Man-made disasters include cruelty, neglect, or arson cases.
In 2017, OHS spokesperson Victoria Hampton said 21 volunteers and 17 staff members were deployed to natural or man-made disaster zones in the U.S. and Virgin Islands. Harmon said opportunities to help people and animals in other disaster zones, helps prepare volunteers and staff for a natural disaster in Oregon or Washington.
While OHS helps animals during disasters, more often the organization focuses its efforts on getting justice for abused animals and rehoming them.