Andrew aftermath: The hurricane is over, but the storm goes on

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 1992:

MIAMI, FLORIDA–– First came Hurricane
Andrew, devastating south Florida and tearing a path of
destruction along the northern edge of the Gulf of Mexico
all the way to Louisiana. In the wake of the August 24
storm, animal rescuers impressed the world with prompt,
professional response. Observers including New York Times
correspondents, military personnel, and coordinators of
relief for human disaster victims praised––and sometimes
envied––what they saw.
“Noah was there!”, ANIMAL PEOPLE declared.
Then came exhaustion and frustration. In some
instances the need for help dragged on months longer than
public attention remained focused on the plight of the vic-
tims, both human and animal. Donations were fewer, as
were accolades. Combat fatigue soon followed. In other
cases, individuals who gained a sense of meaning and self-
worth from helping out insisted on continuing to “help” long
after their efforts ceased to be useful––and felt hurt when
told to go home.

There were major misunderstandings, occasioned
in part by disrupted communications, an inevitable aspect
of every disaster. There was massive waste of relief sup-
plies, due to muddled communications, fractured trans-
portation links, and lack of intact weatherproof and water-
proof storage facilities.
And of course there was profiteering on the part of
unscrupulous individuals and organizations, including some
nonprofits, who saw the whole situation as a chance to
make a buck.
Exhibiting a response pattern familiar to those who
study catastrophes, some animal rescue workers eventually
joined the chorus of disgruntled human victims and rescuers
who began hurling charges and countercharges only hours
after the storm subsided.
Amid it all, there was a second wave of injuries to
animals––inflicted this time by people, on purpose.
“We had an outbreak of post-Vietnam stress syn-
drome,” Fort Lauderdale Dog Club president Linda Gruskin
explained. “Wife-beating went up 1,000 percent.” And so
did animal abuse. Some people began shooting stray ani-
mals, purportedly to put them out of misery or to protect
public safety. In one instance a rescuer was approaching a
horse when a passerby stopped and gut-shot the animal with
a machine-gun.
“Our vets have learned to treat more gunshot
wounds than you’d have seen in a war zone,” Gruskin con-
tinued. There were also outbreaks of animal sacrifice and
dogfighting in the tent cities for displaced people––neither
problem anything new to the area, but both usually kept
more discreet.
American Humane
Just as complaints from human rescue workers
tended to focus on the American Red Cross, the leading pri-
vate relief organization for people, complaints from animal
disaster workers focused on the American Humane
Association. Gruskin managed the FLDC’s MASH unit,
which was apparently the busiest and longest-operating of
many set up by a variety of groups in the first days after the
storm. By November, she estimated, her MASH had
served 6,000 animals. FLDC members were fostering over
1,000 dogs, cats, birds, gerbils, and for a time, even 60
goats, Gruskin said. But, she charged, “The AHA sent us
no food and no medicine. The only way we got anything
was by soliciting the dog fanciers and the cat fanciers.”
“None of us are too happy with the AHA,” agreed
Sally Matlock, who said she spent $10,000 of her own
money in six weeks, running a private MASH unit that
served 2, 000 animals. The MASH headquarters was a
recreational vehicle provided by the Orlando Humane
Society. Despite her complaints, which centered on the dis-
tribution of AHA assistance by the Greater Miami Humane
Association, Matlock acknowledged that the AHA had sup-
plied her unit with some drinking water, pet food, and food
for volunteers.
Yet another disaster relief volunteer, Judy Piccola
of the Animal Refuge Center in Fort Myers, accused AHA
of “creative writing” in connection with a fundraising appeal
mailed just two days after Andrew hit.
ANIMAL PEOPLE investigated each charge,
talking to numerous sources both on and off the record, but
like the charges made against the Red Cross, the complaints
about the AHA ultimately proved to be misdirected,
through misunderstanding of the organization’s role.
As AHA animal protection division director
Dennis White explained and humane society personnel all
over Florida confirmed, “American Humane was on the
phone to several humane societies up and down the Florida
coast, as well as to the Bahamas Humane Society, a day
before the hurricane hit.” By the time Andrew came ashore,
the essentials of the response that so impressed outside
observers were already arranged, and White was already on
his way to the scene, the seventh disaster he’s dealt with
“It is our position to work with local animal care
or control agencies after disaster strikes,” White continued.
“Assistance can be in several forms. Typically, we provide
food, emergency medical expenses, and housing of animal
disaster victims.” In Florida, the AHA began food distrib-
ution in the hard-hit towns of Homestead and Cutler Ridge
on August 29, established a foster care center for homeless
animals at Davie on September 8, and coordinated work
involving the humane societies of Vero Beach, Stuart, Port
St. Lucie, Broward County, and Miami, as well as the
Army Corps of Veterinarians, local veterinarians, and sev-
eral horse clubs. “Representatives from the American
Animal Hospital Association and the Florida Veterinary
Medical Association provided veterinary coordination,”
White added.
The foster care center was of modest scale, han-
dling only 25 animals at a time, but the 25 were animals
who for various reasons were believed extremely likely to
be reclaimed by their keepers, or to be adopted if not
reclaimed within three weeks. Animals with lesser
prospects were usually euthanized if not claimed or at least
positively identified within the usual holding period for the
pounds and shelters who picked them up (extended a few
extra days when possible, as shelter staff recognized that
many human storm victims wouldn’t be able to get to hold-
ing locations to look for lost animals while roads were still
blocked and public transportation wasn’t running).
On October 27, the AHA turned management of
the Davie center over the to Humane Society of Greater
Miami, ending a seven-week presence.
The AHA response to any disaster is always
directed through member pounds and shelters, who in turn
handle liaison with community groups and regional associa-
tions such as dog clubs. Because AHA is a national organi-
zation, it is most active in coordinating work that involves
other national organizations and businesses––such as
obtaining and transporting supplies and emergency person-
Although AHA disaster assessment teams do some
hands-on care, as opportunity permits, their main job is
obtaining an overview. Hands-on work is generally left to
the pounds’ and shelters’ own staffs and volunteer networks,
since bringing additional people other than needed special-
ists into a disaster area often just compounds the
inescapable confusion.
Like the Red Cross and other disaster relief agen-
cies, the AHA maintains a special disaster relief fund, con-
tributions to which may not be used for any other purpose.
Appeals are issued as promptly as possible after each disas-
ter in order to rebuild the fund before it is exhausted.
The post-Andrew appeal was issued unusually
quickly, White said, because a membership mailing was
already in assembly. The AHA simply substituted a new
appeal letter for the one previously written and printed, and
used the envelopes it had on hand.
Conflicting interests
Beyond communication and transport problems
caused by Andrew itself, ANIMAL PEOPLE found, the
most evident cause of discord among animal rescuers was
mutual distrust as result of past history. In particular, there
was friction between Dade County Animal Control and pri-
vate organizations including the Animal Refuge Center and
Matlock’s group, Citizens Against Pet Overpopulation,
apparently involving ongoing efforts to strengthen local
anticruelty and anti-breeding measures. There was also
considerable friction between activist groups and the local
and regional veterinary societies.
White noted that, “Ego problems began to arise
when local vets began to reopen their practices. The MASH
units felt they should stay and provide everything free, even
rabies shots. The state health department did not feel there
was a rabies threat, and recommended that rabies clinics
were really not necessary. As time went on and more vet
clinics opened up, the need for the MASH units lessened.
They resisted closing down, and one unit even relocated on
a couple of occasions just to stay in business.”
The biggest difference of opinion in the clash
between the veterinary societies and the MASH units had to
do with definitions of “emergency.” The veterinary defini-
tion ended with injuries and illnesses directly caused by the
hurricane. Gruskin and Matlock insist litters of puppies and
kittens born to wandering animals displaced by Andrew are
also part of it. The FLDC spent over $35,000 on spaying or
neutering more than 1,000 strays, most of whom wouldn’t
have been altered by anyone otherwise, who were subse-
quently put up for adoption. Cat fancy groups took some of
the homeless cats to exhibitions, where many were adopt-
ed, while the dog clubs handled dog adoptions. “Spaying,
neutering, and adoption are our main priorities now,”
Gruskin told ANIMAL PEOPLE in early November. To
the veterinarians, that was business as usual.
Even before the conflicts over what free care
should include broke out, there was a serious misunder-
standing over veterinary supplies. Acting independently of
the AHA and American Hospital Association, and of the
Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, who
staffed and supplied several MASH units, a number of vet-
erinarians sent shipments of outdated medicines and manu-
facturers’ samples. Much of the material was still good, but
having no way to tell what was and wasn’t, the MASH units
discarded anything dubious.
“We had to throw away two pallets of useless
stuff,” Matlock said. “Some of the stuff dated back to
1965.” Bitter volunteers who did the sorting charged the
contributing veterinarians with simply seeking a tax write-
off (which they would not get in instances where no
receipts were supplied by the recipient organizations, or in
cases where the recipients were not tax-exempt).
Inevitably the arrival of the outdated medicines
was confused with the organized relief effort, and the coor-
dinating groups got the blame for something they’d had
nothing to do with.
Despite distribution difficulties, pet food was
never really in short supply. The problem was finding out
who needed donated food and then getting it there. FLDC
team members passed out 21 tons of food donated by dog
clubs from all over Florida on the first weekend after the
storm, Gruskin said. Other food collection drives ended up
as wasted effort.
“Talk about waste,” White said, “there were more
groups bringing more dog and cat food, treats, etcetera,
only to end up dumping it because they made no effort to
coordinate with anyone. Much of the food went to waste.
The large pet food companies sent tons and tons of food,
only to unload it where it would rot. Why? No storage
space. AHA found storage space a block away from Dade
County Animal Control; Broward County Humane Society
found 10,000 square feet of space,” and as ANIMAL PEO-
PLE went to press was still making food deliveries to disas-
ter victims.
“All the MASH units had to do was work within
the system and they would have had all the free quality food
they wanted plus water, leashes, and medical supplies. I
worked with the Pet Food Institute,” White continued,
“and we agreed that their members would respond with
assistance if I made a personal request for food. This was
done to avoid more wasted product, about nine days after
the hurricane struck.”
There was also considerable confusion over who
was responsible for which MASH unit. Rescuer Sharon
Bailey told ANIMAL PEOPLE that some known “animal
collectors,” under investigation for keeping excessive num-
bers of dogs and cats already, used the storm as a pretext
for taking in more––and for soliciting funds.
“There were grassroots groups who simply did
their own thing,” White agreed. “Those of us at the com-
mand center found out about them in time. They all pretty
much griped that the national groups didn’t do enough and
that they were the only ones helping animals. I took a drive
by two of the grassroots MASH units,” White said, “and
saw dogs chained to fence posts out in the hot sun, panting
away. Some had tarp shelters; many did not. I am not
denouncing what they did,” he added. “We all had our
roles to play. I would have done it a little differently.”
And then there were the appeals.
“To my knowledge,” White said, “only two other
national groups played roles in Florida––the International
Fund for Animal Welfare, and the Humane Society of the
United States regional office in Tallahassee. When Brian
Davies of IFAW arrived at the command center at Dade
County Animal Control on August 31, he offered his com-
munications equipment and the use of his helicopter to us.
He also sent a staff member to help with the foster care pro-
gram we were beginning to organize. Other than that, he
told me personally that it looked as if AHA had things under
control and to call him if we needed assistance. The HSUS
crew appeared at the command center several days after our
people arrived. They also helped a grassroots group set up a
MASH unit [believed to be Matlock’s].”
But many other national groups issued fundraising
appeals in connection with the disaster, some claiming to
have helped at the scene, others claiming to be sending
money and supplies. Regional, local, and special interest
organizations also jumped into the picture. And some
appeals were issued by grassroots groups on behalf of other
groups, not always with authorization. In at least one
instance that ANIMAL PEOPLE was able to verify, a
grassroots group in another part of the U.S. asked that hurri-
cane relief funds be sent to a national group that never
claimed to have any involvement whatever. The group had
helped with disaster relief after another hurricane, some
years earlier.
“Groups popped out everywhere,” White said.
“Some I knew as legitimate, some I didn’t know about. One
of the grassroots groups’ founders told me she made so much
money from her appeal, she could buy out AHA twice.”
At deadline, White was trying to organize a con-
ference on the Hurricane Andrew aftermath, “to discuss var-
ious problems and what we can do to make things run
smoother.” The conference was tentatively scheduled for
early March, and would probably be held in northern or
central Florida. (Get an update from 303-792-9900.)
“We should all recognize our limits in working
such disasters,” White concluded. “I plan on inviting not
only national groups, but also local animal care and control
agencies, the Red Cross, the Army Veterinary Corps, the
Pet Food Institute, AVMA, AAHA, and others.”
The ANIMAL PEOPLE investigation found
dozens more unsung heroes than villains. While most of the
MASH units focused on companion species, Miami veteri-
narians Richard Templeton and Deborah Marshall set up a
horse MASH at the Tropical Park Horse Show Grounds,
treating as many as 50 horses at a time. The plight of horses
was no less severe than that of people and household pets.
Homestead horse owner Marsha Schloesser told the horse
health magazine Equus that “Probably half the barns [in the
area] blew away or collapsed.”
Diane Albers, fired as director of the Humane
Society of Seminole County at one point, won praise from
several people who otherwise disagreed about nearly every-
thing. “She was one of the individuals who started the
MASH units and rescued, personally, over 500 dogs the
day after the hurricane,” White confirmed.
Matlock asked ANIMAL PEOPLE to recognize
Army veterinarian Col. Thelton “Mac” McCorcle, Miami-
area veterinarian Perry Smith, Volusia veterinarian Paul
Mattson, other vets she knew only as Bauman, Browning,
and Sutherland, Martha Lentz of Orlando Humane, Laura
Bevan of HSUS, and fellow volunteers Terry Crisp, Sue
McLeod, Bill Lynch, and Shirley Minshew, who set up a
rescue kennel in Macon, Georgia.
Gruskin laughed that if she named people who
deserved praise, she might accidentally miss someone
among many and become unpopular.
Whether or not the many groups around the U.S.
who pitched in to help were effective, they all got experi-
ence that should contribute to improving future relief efforts.
For instance, unforeseen bureaucracy held up aid collected
by the newly organized Greater Cleveland Animal Disaster
Team. Taking up a collection right after Andrew hit, the
group gathered 3,000 pounds of food and $5,600 in financial
contributions, but wasn’t allowed to cash donated checks
until it received a federal tax identification number. That
didn’t come through until the first week of November. The
red tape illustrated the need to be prepared, a point the
group stresses in continuing preparation for when and if a
disaster should strike northeastern Ohio.
“After several organizational meetings,” founder
Sue Gundich told ANIMAL PEOPLE, “we have begun to
train volunteers, averaging 40 members per session. We
are training members in all aspects of disasters,” including
“to handle domestic animals, wildlife, farm animals,
exotic animals, and possibly zoo animals. While none of us
anticipated the effort it would take,” Gundich added, “we
are proud to be among the first in the country to realize the
Other groups interested in setting up disaster relief
teams to assist animals may obtain the American Kennel
Club’s booklet Guidelines for Disaster Planning from the
AKC headquarters, 51 Madison Ave., New York, NY
10010, and the Los Angeles Dept. of Animal Regulation’s
manual, Disaster Preparedness, c/o Room 1400, 419 South
Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90013.
Relief aid collections
Organizations still collecting and dispatching relief
for animal victims of Andrew include:
Affiliated Horse Organizations of Florida, c/o
Equine Relief Fund, National Bank of Detroit, 1320 E.
Venice Ave., Venice, FL 34292; telephone 813-484-0461
or 813-494-3465.
American Humane Association, 63 Inverness
Drive East, Englewood, CO 80112-5117; telephone 303-
Citizens Against Pet Overpopulation, 1300
N.W. 31st Ave., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33311.
Fort Lauderdale Dog Club Hurricane Andrew
Fund, 13930 Luray Road, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33330.
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