Voices of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals
by Steve Gruber, Director of Communications
As Hurricane Irene ripped up the coast heading for New York City late last week, the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals was preparing city’s animals. Along with partner organizations in the Animal Planning Task Force (APTF) of the NYC Office of Emergency Management (OEM), we were organizing the city’s coordinated emergency response to the approaching storm to ensure the safety of NYC’s pets and their people.
When OEM activated New York City’s Coastal Storm Plan in the days before the arrival of what was feared to be a direct hit by Irene, the Mayor’s Alliance moved into action along with its APTF partners. These include The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®), Animal Care & Control of NYC (AC&C), Bideawee, NYC Veterinary Emergency Response Team (VERT), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the NYC Department of Health, and many others. After more than four years of planning, this coordinated disaster response plan was put to the test on a larger scale than ever before.
New Yorkers can take pride in our City’s response plan; it recognizes the importance of animal welfare and the powerful bond between people and their pets. One of the leading reasons why people fail to evacuate for hurricanes and other crises is because they refuse to leave their pets behind. With lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina six years ago, we now have a plan in place in New York City that allows pet owners to seek shelter with their pets at the city’s hurricane shelters.
As the storm approached, 65 emergency evacuation centers throughout the five boroughs were opened and welcoming to animals. Dogs, cats, birds, turtles, and other pets made their way to these centers, brought in by their owners who didn’t have to choose between their own safety and the safety of their animals. In fact, more than 220 animals were sheltered from the storm along with their families at hurricane shelters throughout the city.
The Mayor’s Alliance worked tirelessly before, during, and after the storm, and these efforts impacted thousands of animals. Our work — from the operations center of the OEM to the individual rescue responses on the street — made certain that animals were rescued, sheltered, transported, and ultimately saved.
Mayor’s Alliance volunteers responded to our call for standby help. Some were deployed to assist in staffing and care of animals at the city’s hurricane shelters. Staffer Diane Gauld helped to manage those calls throughout the weekend.
Hundreds of animals were moved in the days and hours prior to the storm. The Alliance’s Wheels of Hope transport coordinators May Salisbury and Connie Shannon remained at the helm during extended hours to coordinate emergency animal transports. Jack, a Wheels of Hope driver, evacuated animals from AC&C’s Staten Island shelter to safe havens with New Hope Partners.
NYC Feral Cat Initiative staffer Valerie Sicignano coordinated rescues and arranged for sheltering of at-risk outdoor cats, kittens, and injured baby wildlife.
While the MTA was dismantled, Krista Menzel, our web coordinator, was activated throughout the weekend to communicate messaging through our website, blog, and social media outlets to make sure all New Yorkers were informed to include their pets in emergency planning and knew that NYC’s hurricane evacuation centers were accepting animals with their owners.
Mayor’s Alliance staffers Jenny Coffey and Steve Gruber each took on a 12-hour, overnight shift at the OEM Emergency Operations Center to make sure the sheltering plan was being followed, that no animals were being turned away from the shelters, and that shelter supplies were available where needed.
Sean Casey Animal Rescue (SCAR), an Alliance Participating Organization located in Brooklyn and designated in the animal plan as a supplementary animal shelter, prepared to take on overflow intake of animals from AC&C if the two remaining AC&C shelters in Manhattan and Brooklyn reached capacity. The Mayor’s Alliance worked with SCAR’s Charles Henderson to acquire supplies to set up the auxiliary shelter, and also to provide AC&C with supplemental shelter supplies.
And close to home for the Mayor’s Alliance, Melissa Donaldson hunkered in at our office for a weekend sleepover to keep watch over our resident Picasso Veterinary Fund cats who share our office, including Lovey, a sweet, young, long-haired black beauty, recovering from recent eye surgery.
New York City’s response to last weekend’s emergency was historic. The Mayor’s Alliance is proud to be a part of the City’s disaster response efforts. And with lessons learned from this encounter with Irene, we are in an even stronger position to ensure the safety of New York City’s animals going forward.
About the Author
Steve Gruber is the Director of Communications for the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals. Steve has worked with the Mayor’s Alliance since 2004, and manages the organization’s communications activities, including advertising, public relations, internal communications, and publications. He has worked within the marketing communications field for most of his career, and has volunteered or worked for several animal protection organizations over the years.