It was impossible to ignore the cat's wails. His cries shattered the darkness and echoed through the quiet suburban Maryland neighborhood. Behind a row of houses, someone's pet cat had fallen from a tree, broken one of his legs, and become entangled in the branches.
Krista Hughes,corporate marketing manager for the HSUS's Factory Farming Campaign, heard the cries from her home and ran to help. Equipped with a ladder and pillowcase, Hughes lowered the cat to safety in the makeshift cloth carrier and transported him to the local animal shelter, where staff immediately took the animal to the nearest emergency veterinary clinic.
Just days later the cat was reunited with his guardian at the local animal shelter. The owner can thank Hughes for that kindness as well; she posted flyers around the neighborhood briefly explaining what happened to the cat. It's not an exaggeration to say that, without Hughes help, the cat may have died from his injuries.
Hughes reacted in the calm, caring way that most animal lovers imagine they themselves would react in a similar situation. Many people, however, are ill-equipped to deal with an animal emergency at a moment's notice. But, with a little preparation, anyone with a big heart and a love for animals can become a guardian angel to critters.
"Being on the lookout for animals who need help is one of the best ways to have an immediate and direct effect on animals," says Rebecca French, The HSUS's outreach assistant for Animal Sheltering Issues. "You can be the difference between life and death for an animal. And you may be that animal's only hope for finding her family or being adopted into a new family. People often think that someone else will take care of the problem, but there are so many animals who need help that it's up to each of us to do everything we can every time we see an animal in need."
When animals roam, whether lost or abandoned, they face extreme risks. Removing animals from dangerous situations can literally save their lives. "Helping a wandering critter prevents injury or death from traffic, starvation, cruelty, disease, attacks from other animals, and other dangerous and inhumane conditions," says Dr. Jo Liska, director of Outreach and Education at Bloomington Animal Care & Control in Bloomington, Indiana, and guardian of an abandoned cat who showed up on her porch and stayed for 15 years.
"Bringing the animal to safety is the kindest thing you can do," says Alex Murphy, a volunteer at the Erie County SPCA in Buffalo, New York. Murphy helped to rescue a stray dog near his home, explaining "I wanted to help because I knew I'd be frantic if my own dog was lost."
Unlike humans, companion animals can't dial 911 or tell their family where they are. They are at the mercy of the people whom they meet, and, as domesticated creatures, they are almost entirely dependent on human compassion. Many people want to help, but are apprehensive or unsure of what to do. However, a little bit of education and preparation can turn a passive animal lover into an active one.
Yet, no matter how confident a person feels about helping an animal in need, it's also important to remember that approaching an unknown animal can be dangerous. "People should always be cautious. Use common sense¿if you don't feel comfortable handing an animal who may be unfriendly or fearful call animal control or your local shelter and wait with the animal until help arrives," says French.
For more specific information on what steps to take once an at-risk animal has been identified, check out The HSUS's comprehensive guide, What To Do When You Find a Stray Dog or Cat
The HSUS also recommends that you prepare an emergency animal kit for your vehicle. That way, whether an animal is on the side of the highway or on your front porch, you'll be prepared.
An emergency animal kit should include:
There are thousands of animals who need help, just like the injured cat that Hughes rescued, the lost dog that Murphy picked up, and the abandoned cat that Liska took in. Whatever their story, these animals are alone in a dangerous world -- and it's up to animal lovers to act on their behalf.
Rebecca Simmons is the Outreach Communications Coordinator for the Companion Animals section of The HSUS.