In Maui, Hawaii, after the most devastating wildfire in the U.S. in more than a century, dozens of people lost their lives along with countless cats, dogs, and other animals.
The historic city of Lahaina has been almost completely destroyed. Horror stories of people running into the ocean in a last-ditch effort to save their lives have become all too common. The tragic search for missing companion animals will continue in the weeks and months to come.
Fires are a devastating natural disaster that result in terrible pain as people lose their homes, suffer from serious injuries, or lose their lives. And companion animals, stray animals, and wild animals struggle without access to the most basic resources and medical aid.
What Happened in Maui?
A single cause has yet to be determined for what caused the devastating tragedy. Maui, with dry grasses and powerful winds, quickly went ablaze as the fire was able to spread rapidly. Experts say one possibility is that power lines, which fell during intense winds from Hurricane Dora, ignited the wildfire. Maui has been in a severe drought, which increased the intensity of the wildfires.
Lawsuits have begun, demanding accountability from Hawaiian Electric, the largest power provider on Maui, for using equipment that was unable to withstand the heavy winds.
Maui has a long road to recovery ahead. In the aftermath of such devastation, human safety and well-being will take priority. Resources are primarily directed towards saving human lives, restoring buildings, and ensuring the welfare of affected communities. While this focus on human needs is essential and undeniably important, it often means that the suffering of animals is overlooked, leaving them to fend for themselves in altered landscapes and against the odds.
The intertwined fate of humans and animals in the face of natural disasters underscores the importance of preparedness and response strategies that account for all beings in our shared environment.
Stray Animals in Maui Suffer in Silence
Stray animals are especially vulnerable to natural disasters. Some are accustomed to receiving love and daily care from a human caretaker, which places them in an incredibly dangerous position during natural disasters.
There are an estimated 500,000 cats on the island of Maui, many of them stray or feral cats. In the aftermath of such devastation, the focus on protecting stray animals is limited, as resources are focused on addressing the immense suffering that humans are going through.
We may never know how many stray animals suffered and died painful deaths as a result of the fires. But we can take action to protect our companion animals moving forward, and work to address the root of the stray overpopulation crisis to protect future generations from needless suffering.
Protecting Companion Animals from Natural Disasters
Fires, whether caused by natural disasters or unfortunate accidents, can be devastating. Not only do they pose a threat to our homes and possessions, but they also jeopardize the safety of our loved ones—including our cherished companion animals. As responsible companion animal guardians, we need to have a plan in place to ensure the safety of all family members during emergencies. Here are some steps you can take to protect your companion animals from the dangers of fire.
1. Install Smoke Detectors:
Smoke detectors are a must in every home. They should be installed on every level of your house and in sleeping areas. Regularly check their batteries and functionality. The earlier you detect a fire, the more time you have to safely evacuate your companion animals.
2. Companion Animal Alert Window Clings:
Purchase or make a "save our pets!" window sticker that informs firefighters and rescuers about the number and types of companion animals inside your home. Update this information regularly, especially if you acquire a new companion animal or one passes away.
3. Create an Emergency Kit:
Prepare an emergency kit for your companion animals, which can include:
A few days' worth of food and bottled water
Medications and medical records in a waterproof container
Collars with ID tags, and leashes or carriers
A photo of you with your companion animal (in case you get separated)
Familiar items to comfort your companion animal, such as toys or bedding
4. Secure Companion Animal Areas:
Make sure companion animal areas are free from potential fire hazards. For example, if you use heated lamps for reptiles, make sure they're securely mounted so they can't be knocked over. Similarly, candles, which are a common cause of fires, should never be left unattended, especially if curious companion animals are about.
5. Practice Evacuation:
Include your companion animals in your home fire drills. Teach them to come when called, and familiarize yourself with their hiding spots. This can save precious minutes during an actual emergency.
6. Establish a Safe Haven:
Identify a safe place or shelter where you can take your companion animals in case of evacuation. Not all emergency shelters accept companion animals, so research ahead of time. Friends, family, or animal-friendly hotels are some alternatives.
7. Microchip and IDs:
A microchip can be a lifesaver if you and your companion animal get separated during a fire or evacuation. Be sure your contact information is up-to-date in the microchip database. Also, whenever possible, have a collar with an ID tag on your companion animals.
8. Limit Open Flames:
Companion animals are naturally curious and might get too close to a burning candle or stove. Always supervise companion animals around open flames and consider using flameless candles or other alternatives to reduce risk.
9. Companion-Animal-Proof the Home:
Just as you would child-proof a home, make sure there are no easily accessible electrical cords, toxic substances, or other potential hazards within reach of companion animals.
10. Coordinate with Neighbors:
Establish a neighborhood watch system for companion animals. Exchange keys with a trustworthy neighbor and agree to check on and evacuate each other’s companion animals in case of emergency if one of you isn't home.
Our Responsibility to Protect Our Companion Animals
Companion animals depend on us for their safety and well-being. By being prepared and proactive, we can significantly reduce the risks posed by fires and ensure that our beloved companion animals remain safe. Regularly review and practice your emergency plans so that everyone, including your companion animals, will have the best chance of staying safe when disaster strikes.
Protecting Future Generations of Stray Animals from Suffering
Stray animals are especially vulnerable to natural disasters. That’s one of the reasons why 600 Million Dogs is working on a humane solution to the dog and cat overpopulation crisis. Our nonprofit science-centered mission is to significantly reduce animal suffering on a global scale by developing a safe, edible, one-dose, permanent-lasting birth control Cookie for stray dogs and cats!