The dogs in Barbuda struggled to survive for many months on their own after the hurricane.
“We were laying on the floor of the living room holding onto one another as the entire house seemed to bend and shake around us. Our bodies were being pulled up by the wind, but we held on to one another. The noise was so loud, it was deafening, as it tossed around 40 feet shipping containers, like they were dice, destroying everything in their path. My cousin was still in her bedroom, we went to get her so we would all be together and within a minute, there was another loud crash and bang, we opened her bedroom door and the entire bedroom and roof was gone. Then suddenly after hours, it stopped and all you could hear was hammering throughout the town. I yelled over to my neighbors, they came out of the rubble that was once their home. All the houses were gone, but mine. They all came over and laid on the floor as we braced ourselves as we all knew, we were in the center of the eye, we still had hours of this hell to go”. Enron, Barbudan Resident April 2018.
Barbuda is a small Caribbean island – one half of the twin-island nation Antigua and Barbuda. During the night of September 6th, 2017, this small island which covers only 62 square miles, was the first to feel the force of Hurricane Irma. When the storm made landfall, it hit Barbuda at speeds of about 185mph. Barbuda is a flat island so there was nothing to break the direct hit. Everything was destroyed, every being was affected. Antigua, just a 30-minute short plane ride away, was not hit.
Six months later, myself and Meredith, arrive on the dock of Codrington, the only town on Barbuda, to hold a feasibility visit for an Animal Balance program.
There is a USAID tent on the dock full of building materials. Behind that is utter devastation. All you can see are buildings with only some walls left and personal items strewn around the debris of twisted metal, rubble, broken glass and plastic. There are no trees. There is nothing tall. Things are in places that do not make sense, massive metal anchors in town, parts of boats in fields, containers sitting in destroyed homes and in other illogical places. We just stare in disbelief.
Local farmer, Shiraz, greets us and takes us and our hosts, who had come over from Antigua with us, from house to house so we could talk to people about their dogs and give them food and parasite prevention medications. Shiraz told us that the 1,800 who lived there, were forcibly evacuated to Antigua. The people were told to leave their animals. The horses, donkeys, goats, cows, pigs, dogs and cats etc. who had survived were left to fend for themselves. The dogs formed packs and began killing other animals, in order to survive. The Military then shot the dogs and the pigs who were reportedly killing many animals that the people need for their own survival. For a period, it was hell on earth.
Fast forward to last week. The farm animals are now contained again, and all the remaining dogs are tied up. As Shiraz said, if the dogs come after the farmers’ goats, they are going to poison the dogs, so its best people tie them up. The Humane Society, which is based on Antigua, has employed a local person to drop dog food each day for the dogs and other animals that are now confined and totally dependent on human handouts for survival.
About 400 people have moved back to Barbuda. The government of Antigua has not let the teachers go back as yet, but the children have started to come back. The local people reopened the school at a church and the children are currently being taught by retired teachers within the community. The Military, UN, Halo Foundation, USAID, Samaritan Purse and the Red Cross have provided immediate relief. Anyone who moved back has a silver USAID tent in their front garden, with their house in ruins behind it. There is a de-salination station that is providing water via 4 hoses along one road. There are about 40 generators on island. The gasoline, propane, food, and drinking water are all brought in twice a week on the barge. The NGO’s have started to replace roofs and put up animal fencing and moved a lot of the debris to the dump.
After a few hours, Shiraz handed us off to the only local taxi driver, Enron, so he could take us to the dump and other areas of Codrington. Our hosts took the boat back to Antigua. We were on our own. We didn’t have anywhere to stay as there are no hotels left, so Enron said we could stay with him as he had a spare room. This was so incredibly kind of him as he didn’t know us, yet he invited us into his home and said we would be safe with him.
It is moments like these when you remember that human kindness has no boundaries. This man had been through something so terrible that he could not talk about it sometimes, but he wanted us to know. He wanted us to understand. We simply listened to him and as he took us to nests of puppies. As he talked, he helped us find plastic containers, so we could feed, water and treat as many dogs (and pigs, goats, turtles, donkeys) as we could. I am not going to tell you about everything we saw, but suffice to say, it is the worst situation I have ever seen.
That afternoon, Easter Monday, Enron took us to the beach as the entire town was there. We were the only outsiders on that beach and everyone came up and asked us why we were there. It was perfect as we were able to speak to everyone about the idea of a temporary animal hospital. Every person was positive and very excited about the idea and said they would help.
One man, who seemed to be in charge just from his mere presence, came up, shook our hands and started telling his story. When asked, we explained what we would like to do to help and he said it was much needed. Then he asked us to take a moment and look down the beach at the children playing in the surf and all the people having fun and celebrating, he said, “This is the first time my people have come together for a happy celebration since Irma destroyed our beautiful island. Now, with God’s help, we rebuild. My people are strong and resilient. Thank you for offering to help us with our animals.” His words seem to have such larger meaning that day. When I got home I searched for him online, he is Trevor Walker, MP - Minster for Parliament for Barbuda.
After a night at Enron’s, we had been eaten by every mosquito on the island and not slept at all due to the humidity and sweltering heat. This is how everyone has to live. There is no electricity or running water in anyone’s homes. We went with Enron to fill up 20 plastic bottles from the water hoses so we could ‘flush’ the toilet. The next morning Enron provided us with coffee. He was so kind, he didn’t have any coffee filters, so he had gone to the UN house/tent the night before and borrowed some from them, just so we could have coffee.
The kindness that this man showed us, the resilience of the community and the compassionate MP, has restored my faith in humanity again.
Essentially, the dog population is just starting to rebuild so now is the best time to set up a MASH program. We are not even going to worry about sterilizing the cats at this point, their population needs to bounce back naturally for a while. The cats’ help with rodent control is very important right now on so many levels. Animal Balance assesses these situations in an integrated way. All species are woven into the web of life and so we have to be very careful to ensure that we fully understand the implications to all species when we plan to sterilize the majority of one, hence ‘Animal Balance’.
After spending a few days on Barbuda, we headed back to Antigua to meet with the Government Veterinarian, the Humane Society Director, Local Veterinarians and the local animal rescue NGOs. We needed to know what they had done already and what they thought should happen next. We also had to find out what the processes are for temporary veterinary licenses and the importation of all of our veterinary medications. In short, everyone was supportive and offered to help oil the wheels of the processes to get the permissions. As there was an election recently, we must wait for the Minister of Agriculture to appoint a new Veterinary Board and then we can submit our proposal and requests for approval. Our target month is October and the proposal was delivered yesterday.
Quite honestly, Meredith and I are working through what we witnessed. Carla Naden and I were in Haiti after the earthquake and it’s taken us years to even be able to talk about what we saw there, this is quite similar.
We are focusing on the positive and what we can do moving forward to help the small community of Barbuda. We can treat and sterilize their dogs, we can provide parasite treatments, we can vaccinate them against diseases and we can microchip them, so they are safer and healthier. We can ask our friends around the world to help. We are fortunate to have access to incredible resources. We must now use all of our skill sets and our voices to get the Barbudan community what it needs.
They showed us such kindness, we must repay in KIND. The community and animals need us to step in. Please join us in helping.
We have put a need list together below. We are working out shipping routes to get the supplies over. We are planning to camp on Barbuda and set up the clinic in 2 large tents. We are starting to get the large pieces of equipment, such as dog traps, dog cages etc. donated or discounted, and onto shipping containers to Antigua, and then Barbuda. We need funds and some key pieces of equipment at this time.
If you are able/interested in donating any of the following items to this campaign, please email : email@example.com
Dog collars and leashes all sizes
Collapsible PetCo style crates
Flea and Tick topical medications, all types
A free shipping company/space on a container from the East Coast to Antigua
The community is tight. It seems to me that human endurance and our ability to be kind, is amplified when humans come together after a terrible tragedy.