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Super Storm Sandy Did Not Take These Cats; Would You Leave Your Pets Behind?

Kim Levan of Long Neck, Delaware, takes shelter with her dog Charlie at Cape Henlopen High School
Kim Levan of Long Neck, Delaware, takes shelter with her dog Charlie at Cape Henlopen High School

Sandy, who punched the eastern shores on October 29th, took the lives of not only people, but many animals as well. Two cats, however, were lucky their owners had them in mind when the desperate need to evacuate arose as wild fires that could not be fought due to rising flood waters, consumed their neighbor's houses and was heading toward theirs.

Resident Kim Levan of Long Neck, Delaware, takes shelter with her dog Charlie at Cape Henlopen High School as Hurricane Sandy approaches October 29, 2012 in Lewes, Delaware.

When it comes time to leave in a hurry, priority comes to mind. Most people grab their children and some cherished items. But for those of us whose animals are our children, they become the priority.

Such was the case with two black cats, Schwartz and Scooter. They scooped up the cats and took off as five of their neighbor's houses erupted into flames. Finding a place to accept cats was not as easy as one would think in such a disaster situation. Not wanting to bend their own rules for victims, hotels turned them away because they had cats with them.

"We sneaked them in and put a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door — pretending we’re on our honeymoon," said Warren Sherwood, 56, a systems analyst. "But after three days, they got restless and starting meowing."

They found a shelter set up inside a gym near Long Beach, NY.

Entwined with the human costs of the storm, which killed more than 100 people and caused billions of dollars in damage, is another significant toll — that of the cherished pets that died or were left behind as families fled for their lives, adding in many cases to feelings of displacement and trauma. [source]

Some find it hard to understand why animals are a key concern in disasters engulfing human lives, but owners feel an attachment and responsibility to their pets, said Niki Dawson, director of disaster services for the Humane Society of the United States.

Those of us who see our pets as part of the family, as children, cannot understand how anyone could view it any other way. Personally, if you were able to scientifically compare my love for my horse with the love a mother has for her child, you would not find a difference. It is in my chemical make up to see animals as equals to human children. Many do not understand it, and even more doubt it. But I know, and my horse knows.

The other day, I was listening to a radio show where they were discussing the brain and the effect of emotional responses, and they were talking about the old television show, M*A*S*H. I know this show well as I grew up watching it, and I recall with great clarity the episode they were discussing. Hawkeye (Alan Alda) was conversing with a psychiatrist of the emotional break down that landed him in a psychiatric hospital, and the events leading up to it. In it, he recants the tale of being trapped in a bus filled with civilians as the enemy bore down on them. In his mind, a woman nearby was holding a chicken (which did not seem odd as this was 1950's Korea). This bird was making an awful racket, threatening to give away their location to the enemy and putting the entire bus load of people at risk of being killed.

Hawkeye kept telling the woman to please keep it quiet. He was getting desperate. Here comes the enemy and this chicken will not hush! Everyone's lives are at risk. Next thing he knows, there is silence, so he looks over. The woman, in the only way she knew how to quiet the chicken, had killed it.

Anyone who has not seen this episode would be questioning, why would Hawkeye, a solidly stable, immensely talented surgeon who is not particularly a big animal lover (that was Radar's "job" in the show) go psycho over the death of a chicken?

As it turns out, and as the episode progresses, we discover, as Hawkeye's true memories return, that this was not actually a chicken, but the woman's own child. The idea that his words and need to have utter silence within the bus led to this woman murdering her own baby had driven him mad.

In the radio show, they posed the question, Would you kill your own child to save your life or the lives of those around you? The audience's replies were 50/50 for and against. As for me, I had to think of this completely in a different way. Killing a human child to save yourself and others, to me, seemed a no-brainer. Kill it! Shut it up, get it out of here. There's more where that came from. In order to get a true and unbiased response from myself to the question, I had to do as Hawkeye did; I had to change the child to an animal. Not a random animal, mind you, but my horse or one of my cats. In this scenario, I used my horse and the answer I came up with was No. Absolutely not.

And this brings us back to Superstorm Sandy and the decision folks had to make whether to risk their own lives to save their pets.

"There’s such a strong bond between people and animals, that people will put their lives at risk not to leave a pet behind," Dawson said. "So they stay, even when they’re told to evacuate."

City shelters took in about 400 animals along with their families in the first days after Sandy, Schneider said. There are now more than 100 in shelters with their owners, and a mobile animal medical clinic is cruising decimated neighborhoods in the Rockaway areas of Queens and on Staten Island.

Two weeks after Sandy made landfall, followed a week later by a nor’easter, search-and-rescue teams were led by Animal Care & Control of NYC, a city-contracted nonprofit responding to hotline calls about pets in distress. Callers are owners forced to leave animals behind or unable to care for them, or people who see them wandering in hard-hit areas.

The Sherwoods chose to take their cats with them, rather than, say, a photo album! And that's a decision that true animal lovers will not doubt for a moment.

Here in Connecticut, most shelters for humans now allow pets. Pet friendly motels are popping up all over as business owners finally realize how important pets are to people. Having to evacuate and possibly lose one's home is bad enough without the added pain of losing pets in the process. To many of us, that would be the equivalent of losing a human child.

So, the moral of the story comes down to one question. Would you leave your pets behind to suffer, starve, drown or burn? Would you leave your pets behind to die?


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