Building a humane nation in quake-ravaged Haiti

In the wake of the devastating Haitian earthquake last January, the Humane Society of the United States, along with partner Humane Society International, deployed teams of animal rescue workers, veterinarians and supplies to Haiti, its efforts bolstered by $1 million in donations.

They found a country with no animal shelters or veterinary hospitals, in other words no animal welfare infrastructure at all.

Now the groups are digging in for the long haul, guiding veterinarians on disaster response, implementing street dog sterilization and helping teach owners to care for their horses. Its lofty goal: building a humane nation.

Here is the latest dispatch from Humane Society International staffer Chris Broughton (pictured at left):

In the third week of January, I deployed with the first teams HSI sent to Haiti to assess the animal-related needs in the country after the earthquake. I had never in my life seen the level of abject poverty and desperation that I observed on my first trips to Port-au-Prince and the surrounding communities. And when it came to the needs of animals, the situation was also pitiful. With so many human needs unmet, you can imagine that there was not much there for animals, even though you could find lots of people who cared about them and wanted to do better by them.

After several additional deployments to participate in immediate relief work, I accepted HSI’s offer to move to Haiti and work full time on developing and managing a set of animal welfare based projects there.

We had an advantage in being able to build upon our relationship with veterinarians of the Christian Veterinary Mission, who had been living in Haiti for a long time and have been a phenomenal asset and base of support for our efforts. Working in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture and with Best Friends Animal Society, our partner in several initiatives here, we have begun to implement several projects, including veterinary training and continuing education opportunities for Haitian responders, street dog sterilization and vaccination operations, working equine care and owner education, veterinary animal disaster response training, and most importantly perhaps, the development of the first humane animal care and veterinary training center in Haiti.

During a recent disaster preparedness training for approximately 60 Haitian veterinarians, I started to get the feeling that in listening to information about disaster preparedness and response, the participants were not fully grasping their potentially invaluable role as responders. As we tailored our approach in the training to foster more audience dialogue, the excitement of the attendees rapidly increased. To see, in the span of a few moments, the dynamic transition from students receiving a lecture to a community response team in development was a wonderfully inspiring experience. It reflected the best aspects of many of our global initiatives: empowering a local network to increase its capacity for the animals within its reach.

We have been fortunate to have both the support of the local communities in which we work but also to have the cooperation of many of the veterinarians in the country. Our primary goal in these efforts is to facilitate a lasting humane infrastructure and to do so in a way that will benefit the Haitian people as a whole. We are laying a solid foundation, the future prospects for our work and our values here are promising, and the potential growth and impact of these programs is tremendous. I’m excited to play a role in improving the lives of animals in Haiti, and in helping the world to see how crucial our work is to the near- and long-term public health and economic interests of the Haitian people.