Maui animal search teams deployed into Lahaina burn zone

Sep. 2—Teams are focusing on finding animals reported by the public and first responders, along with remaining cat colonies and stray pets.

The search for pets and animals that survived the treacherous fires in Lahaina has begun, and has now been underway for a week.

The Maui Humane Society said at 3 :30 p.m. Aug. 26, Maui County officials granted the nonprofit and other animal groups access to the Lahaina burn zone to conduct a coordinated search and rescue of live animals.

"We've trapped a significant amount, many within an area where we did not necessarily think there was going to be life after three weeks, " said MHS spokesperson Katie Shannon, whose last day was Friday. "We're very happy to know a lot of these animals are surviving."

The National Guard is escorting MHS officers, along with members of Animal Search and Rescue, Animal Incident Management and Greater Good Charities into the affected areas, she said.

Teams are focusing on finding animals reported by the public and first responders, along with remaining cat colonies and stray pets.

Most of the animals found have been a mix of pet and stray cats, she said, but there have also been reports of a Chihuahua the team is hoping to rescue. Search and rescue efforts are continuing around the clock.

"Reunification is our No. 1 priority, " she said.

The access comes after a group of grassroots animal advocates spent weeks demonstrating in front of Maui Mayor Richard Bissen's office asking for access to the "burn scar " in time to save the surviving animals.

The group said animals were in urgent need of food, water and rescue but were blocked as officials focused on the search for human remains. On Aug. 25, Maui County said that search was 99 % complete.

Dr. Maria Jose, a local veterinarian who flew to Maui to assist for three different days in August, left frustrated and wishing she could have done more not only for the people of Lahaina, but for their pets.

She said she was initially given access to the burn zone, then later denied after having recovered some animals with mostly nonlife-threatening burns. She spent the rest of her time examining pets at Lahaina Gateway Mall, where she triaged a few animals with burn injuries.

Jose thinks their condition was worse due to dehydration and the length of time left in the burn zone, and that teams missed the "golden window of opportunity " to save most of the critically injured animals in Lahaina.

Going forward, she hopes better protocols will be in place for the role of animal rescue personnel during and immediately after a disaster.

"In other countries, animal rescue teams work side by side human rescue teams in almost all disaster scenarios, " she wrote. "It appears that only in the United States we consistently hamper the ability of animal rescue to help the animal victims. We must realize that every pet saved is a reason for a family to have hope in the face of complete devastation. We owe it to them to maximize our rescue abilities to the fullest."

The Maui Humane Society, meanwhile, said every effort will be made to connect microchipped pets with their owners.

MHS said in its Instagram post that animals without a microchip or ID will initially be processed in the society's Trap-Neuter-Release villa at its facility in Puunene.

Friendly cats will remain in the society's care for 30 days before becoming available for adoption. Original owners may reclaim their pet up to 90 days, according to its Lahaina Stray Hold Policy.

"We see each animal as an individual and will treat each animal as an individual for live outcomes, " said MHS in the post. "As we have been faced with unprecedented times, we appreciate your patience and understanding that our plans continue to evolve and adapt as our situation and needs of the animals also continues to evolve."

The society has so far taken in about 250 pets, including those that are injured and deceased, she said, and has reunited about 80 with their owners.

MHS shared that one friendly orange cat named Finn was found in Lahaina and has been reunited with his owner, who is still seeking his sibling, a cat named Bali.

"Finn's story gave our shelter the hope we needed during these times, and we hope sharing it with you will give you all the hope you need right now too " wrote MHS.

MHS is also providing pet supplies, offering microchip and wellness clinics, and free health certificates plus airline-approved kennels for people leaving Maui with their pets.

Shannon said residents should continue to file to help with reunification efforts.

MHS is also trying to to assist in fire relief efforts, which will be matched by the Dave & Cheryl Duffield Foundation.

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