By Candy Pilar Godoy, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Torrential rain and landslides devastated the mountainous region known as Região Serrana in the State of Rio de Janeiro in January 2011, creating the worst natural disaster in Brazil’s history. Still recovering, as of late March, 916 bodies have been recovered, 345 people remain missing, and thousands more are homeless.
Yet humans were not the only ones affected by the heavy rainfall. Thousands of animals, mostly dogs and cats, were left homeless, injured, and starving in the wake of the deadly floods. Luckily for our four legged friends, a number of both local and international NGOs, paired with teams of loyal volunteers, committed to lending a hand.
The Brazilian branch of the international organization Sociedade Mundial de Proteção Animal (World Society for the Protection of Animals), or WSPA, is one of the many NGOs that came to the rescue. Working in conjunction with local university UNIFESO, a WSPA team of veterinarians, disaster relief experts, and volunteers deployed to affected areas, along with experts from WSPA offices in Costa Rica.
An emergency operations center in Teresópolis was opened to organize search and rescue parties, aid efforts, and to compile food and supplies for distribution. “We talked to people every day who lost almost everything. It’s gratifying to see that we can bring a little happiness to them and their pets,” said Wendy Castro Correia, a resident of Teresópolis and WSPA volunteer.
WSPA’s large global network and years of experience have allowed them to coordinate smaller local NGOs to work together, creating a task force of help and support. Aid workers ventured to critical locations to provide medical care and search for survivors.
In the end, there were more than 5,000 silent victims which, in addition to dogs and cats, included ducks, chickens, goats, pigs, rabbits, horses, and songbirds. “Our objective is to make sure that all those that are still with us find a new home” said Carla Freire, coordinator of the Office of Animal Welfare.
In the flood’s aftermath, NGOs were quick to recognize that beyond immediate relief, long term help was necessary to ensure the welfare of those displaced and abandoned. Great strides were taken to continue rescue services and veterinary treatment, as well as to reunite lost pets with their owners and arrange adoption events.
Recognized as an adviser to the UN and the Council of Europe, WSPA is the largest federation in support of animal welfare in the world. The Brazil branch first opened its doors in São Paulo in 1991 and has since moved its headquarters to Rio. Their rapidly expanding network has affiliates present in 22 states and the Federal District.
Yet their efforts were not singular. Many organizations, as well as kind-hearted people and volunteers, were present in the face of disaster. Their combined efforts were necessary to allow for the rescue and treatment of so many.
Hundreds, especially adult dogs and cats, are still in dire need. To help, donate, or adopt, please contact veterinarian Andrea Lambert at firstname.lastname@example.org.