More than 100 pets from Lahaina burn zone reunited with owners; Maui Humane Society executive writes open letter
Of the 350 animals recovered from the Lahaina burn zone, 104 were reunited with their owners, according to executives at the Maui Humane Society. Members caught, assessed, treated and housed 219 cats, 88 dogs and 43 other animals, the likes of which include rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, tortoises and a pet pig.
The Maui Humane Society was granted restricted access on Aug. 26, 18 days after the destructive wildfire swept through Lahaina. Maui Humane Society CEO, Lisa Labrecque, DVM, shared the challenges, obstacles, and ongoing efforts to provide help in the wake of Maui’s wildfire disaster. Her open letter to the Maui community is posted below.
Open Letter to Maui Community
Sept. 5, 2023
Four weeks ago today, Maui was forever changed. Fires swept through upcountry Maui and devastated Lahaina town, burning homes and businesses. People and animals who were unable to escape the fast-moving flames lost their lives. As I watched coverage of the events, all I could think of were my friends who lived there — were they able to escape, and did they have enough time to grab their animals? My heart has broken a thousand times for every scared, sweet life lost then, and in the days that followed.
My team at Maui Humane Society began the work that consumed us over the past four weeks and will continue for many months to come. With the help of dozens of experienced search and rescue experts, animal trappers, data experts, veterinarians, and technicians — all of whom were volunteers — we mounted a comprehensive and coordinated effort to save as many animal lives as possible. Each person brought a unique skill set and many years of experience in their specialty. I am very proud of my team, the volunteers, and others who pitched in to help us.ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW AD
The first three weeks were very tough as we were denied access to the Lahaina burn zone despite our multiple pleas to allow us access. Knowing there were lost, scared, and injured animals we couldn’t get to was frustrating and heartbreaking. We were able to assess and treat animals brought to us and to house animals whose owners were not able to take them to temporary housing. We created a database of missing animals with the hope that we will be able to reunite the animals with their owners.
Finally on Saturday, Aug. 26, we received word that we would be allowed access with restrictions. We could enter the burn zone but only with a National Guard escort; we could not enter structures; and we could work in open areas only. Given the limitations placed on us, we focused on rescuing live animals and retrieving bodies of deceased animals.
In the nine days that followed, we worked around the clock. During the day, animal search and rescue teams (ASAR) responded to service calls of lost animals, to seek animals left behind in structures that survived the fires, and to follow up on reports of live animals seen. Trapping teams worked every night since Aug. 26, focusing their efforts on reports and sightings of injured animals. In addition, they have been leaving food and water for many more animals who appeared healthy, planning to trap them when the flood of injured animals has abated.
To date, 350 animals from Lahaina were caught, assessed, treated, and housed — 219 cats, 88 dogs, and 43 others (rabbits, guinea pigs, birds, tortoises, and a pet pig). Of those, 104 were reunited with their owners. Our veterinary clinic, manned by our staff and by volunteer veterinarians, has treated dozens of cats and dogs for smoke inhalation, dehydration, burns ranging from mild to severe, and other injuries.ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW AD
I have seen the best of humanity over the past four weeks — truckloads of donated food and supplies continue to arrive daily from caring individuals and organizations across the country; hundreds of volunteers show up at the shelter every day to help break down the shipments and repackage them for distribution; veterinarians and technicians from our local clinics and abroad have come to help treat burn victims in our onsite clinic and go out in our mobile clinic to the West side to provide free veterinary care to displaced residents. Our staff — I can’t say enough about how dedicated, resilient, passionate, and hard-working they are — has come together like never before to care for the animals and serve the Maui community. I am so thankful for every single member of our team; they are truly the best of the best.
Sadly, our efforts are being hampered by misinformation. We are not charging boarding fees to hold animals; all boarding fees were waived indefinitely for animals impacted by the fires. We are letting Lahaina residents into the shelter to search for their animals; they and all members of the public are welcomed at the shelter to look for their animals seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Recently we were asked about our protocols for rescuing and assessing cats. Our protocols were developed with the input and expertise of Neighborhood Cats, a nonprofit organization founded in 1999 in New York City. Neighborhood Cats’ mission is “to improve the lives of the millions of cats living on our streets and support the compassionate people caring for them.” Our protocols can be read here.
At the end of the day, we recognize that our efforts will be criticized, claiming that we could have done more. While we accept the criticism, we recognize that there are many more of you who support us and our mission. While we thank you very much for your past efforts, we need you now more than ever.ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW AD
Please foster, donate, or volunteer at the shelter and let others know that you are on our team.
Lisa Labrecque, DVM
CEO, Maui Humane Society