Fires in Maui continue to burn as Hawaii faces one of the worst natural disasters in its history. Thousands of residents and their pets have been displaced by the blaze and its resulting destruction. As utilities — including communication capabilities and electricity — remain offline, the situation continues to be hazardous. Structures across the state’s second-largest island have burned to the ground. Resultantly, the death toll is still rising. As the wildfires continue to wreak havoc, dogs from nearby states are being brought to Maui to assist in search and rescue efforts. The use of trained cadaver and search dogs is part of the larger federal response to the ongoing crisis.
The federal response to the crisis
On Thursday, President Joe Biden issued a federal disaster declaration for the state of Hawaii. This came quickly after Hawaii’s Congressional Delegation, led by Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, pushed for the emergency action.
The White House pledged federal funding and support to help address damage resulting from the Maui wildfires. According to CNN, Hawaii requested The White House expand aid from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to include keeping displaced people housed, hydrated, fed, and provided with medical care. FEMA Region 9 has “mobilized an Incident Management Assistance Team” to deploy assistance to crisis victims while coordinating the federal response from Maui.
In a separate statement, the President issued his solemn condolences while praising heroic firefighters and first responders. He also detailed federal assets sent to the state to help. Fire suppression efforts, as well as search and rescue operations, led by the Hawaiian National Guard will continue. Biden noted that the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy Third Fleets will assist in these sustained efforts. He also added that the “Army is providing Black Hawk Helicopters to fight the fires on the Big Island.”
Meanwhile, tourists to Maui are being evacuated by commercial airlines who are operating with the guidance of the Department of Transportation. Environmental damage and ecological hazards resulting from the wildfires will be responded to by both the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior at a later date.
Hawaii Governor Josh Green has spoken to President Biden at least twice in regards to the ongoing crisis. The two have reportedly discussed resources needed to perpetuate search and rescue efforts throughout the disaster area.
Dogs assisting in search and rescue operations
As of this time, at least 67 people have perished as a result of the fires. For this purpose, FEMA declared it would deploy trained cadaver dogs to search the communities in Maui decimated by wildfires. CNN reported that the canines would be coming to Hawaii from California and Washington.
Two dogs from the Clark County Fire Department in Nevada will join the search efforts already underway. Nationally. there exists 28 such FEMA urban search-and-rescue teams like the one the pups hail from. Fox-5 Vegas shared how Fire Chief John Steinbeck received the FEMA request for help and responded quickly thereafter. Chief Steinbeck said, “We have multiple dogs on our team…So we are sending dogs over there to Maui to help.” He expounded on the efforts, adding “we’re going to send at least two dogs and handlers who are search specialists” in locating cadavers.
On Friday, the Governor — along with Maui Mayor Richard Bisson, Jr. — announced residents will be able to return to Lahaina. An important historical center and former capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Lahaina suffered near-total damage. CNN reports that the Governor is cautioning returning locals to avoid “any charred structure that appears unsafe.” He shared that not all of the buildings and burned structures had been explored yet by search dogs.
How Maui’s wildfires have affected other dogs
Thousands of Maui residents have been displaced as a result of the ongoing wildfires. People have been separated from their beloved pets in the process of evacuating. While there are reports of the emergency alert sirens not sounding prior to the storm event in Maui, people with dogs should already have a plan in place before a natural disaster strikes.
There is a subsequent crisis unfolding on the island as the Maui Humane Society addresses how to help the hundreds of lost and severely injured pups. The organization is in desperate need of volunteers to foster dogs, as well as supplies for the influx of additional animals. Most critically, it is also seeking donations to fund medical treatment for dogs suffering from burn wounds and smoke inhalation.
How to keep dogs safe during wildfires
This tragedy brings attention to the importance of pet owners preparing for steps to take in the event of future storms. As climate change accelerates, so does the number of disasters affecting communities of all sizes. In light of this, it’s not a question of if another deadly wildfire, hurricane, or flood will occur, but rather of when. Accordingly, families with dogs should be ready to act in order to protect not only themselves, but their four-legged friends.
Dog parents should download any relevant phone apps in advance of severe weather events. Cell signal and internet may not always be available — as was largely the case in Hawaii — so having emergency phone numbers and evacuation plans saved either in your phone’s notes application or physically written down is necessary. This way, you know what steps to take even if your brain is in a fog in the midst of an emergency. It also allows you to have contact information at the ready when phone service is restored.
Build an emergency kit
An emergency kit — or go bag, if you will — should be created for all household pets. It’s advisable to include up to a week’s worth of food, water, and medication for your pooch. You’ll also need a first aid kit for pets, disinfectant and hand sanitizer, collapsible bowls, and waste disposal bags. Have a carrier or pop-up crate on hand, as well as extra bedding, blankets, and towels. A toy and treats might also be nice.
Medical records and recent photos should similarly be a part of your kit. While you can — and should — have electronic copies of these, it’s not a bad idea to also have physical versions in case your phone battery dies and you’re left without a way to charge it. Again, a printout of emergency numbers and evacuation routes is a useful resource. Despite living in a technological era, modern tools may not always work reliably during an emergency.
Prevent escape: Secure your pets
Most importantly, do not let your dog escape in the chaos of evacuating. Leash your dog and prevent them from running free as you are preparing to leave your home. If you have time to let your pup relieve themselves before getting into your vehicle, don’t let them do so without being attached to a secured leash. Things happen quickly in these situations and your dog may react unexpectedly. The heartbreaking reality is that you may not have time to look for them if they run away. Even if you do, you may not be able to find your four-legged friend. Given how awful it would be to face either of those outcomes, it’s best to be proactive. If you exercise diligence and extreme caution, it will keep both you and your pooch safe.
Your dog should also have a collar with updated identification tags. And, if you have not already, get your pooch microchipped. Furthermore, having your pet spayed or neutered is not only a necessary part of responsible pet ownership, but it also prevents a dog’s urge to wander away from home at any time. That could save their lives — and yours — in an emergency.