Rescue operations are underway to retrieve what could be hundreds of animals left in Leilani Estates and Lanipuna Gardens after their owners were forced to evacuate.
The Hawaii Island Humane Society said it had rescued about two dozen animals as of Tuesday, all but five of which were reunited with owners. Four HIHS staff members have entered evacuated subdivisions each day to retrieve and search for animals, said HIHS Executive Director Donna Whitaker.
Whitaker said at least 32 horses and 300 head of cattle also were rescued from the subdivisions as of Tuesday and are temporarily being accommodated at private ranches and at the Panaewa Equestrian Center.
Many residents did not have a chance to retrieve pets before evacuating Thursday after lava from Kilauea volcano began entering the area. Hawaii County Civil Defense started letting people return to their properties Sunday.
“I left work Thursday afternoon and drove home, and the minute I got out of the car, I got (notice) from Civil Defense (of evacuations),” Whitaker said. “I immediately thought of those people who got off work at 5, live in Leilani Estates and couldn’t go back.
“It’s like missing part of your family. It’s hard enough to think about losing your home, but to know that you had to leave your pets behind is agonizing,” she added.
Among those with pets missing is Leilani resident Jethro Beaudean, who said he had “containered up” his three cats the night before evacuating. He said two got loose, and he wasn’t able to catch them again.
“I left them food and made it back the next day, and I hoped if I could get in there they might be sitting there waiting for me,” Beaudean said Tuesday, becoming emotional. “I’m hoping they will be right around the house if I can get back in again.”
A handful of Facebook groups also emerged this week to help owners find animals. Members have shared photos, volunteered to foster animals and created an “animal matching” document to pair those who lost or found animals.
Elijah Lawson and a group of friends have voluntarily searched for animals on their own. Lawson said the team has made several trips with their pickup truck and trailer since Monday and has rescued seven dogs.
Lawson described the process as “emotional.” He said his team was unable to rescue a small Yorkshire terrier from a fenced property Tuesday but managed to cut the dog free “to at least give him at least a fighting chance.”
“For lack of a better word, it’s completely heart-wrenching,” Lawson said. “I’d be lying if I said our truck wasn’t crying on the way back trying to rescue that (Yorkshire terrier). … I have such a hard time breathing down there with the sulfur (dioxide), and I can only imagine how the pets have it, just wanting to get out of there.”
The Pahoa Community Center and Keaau Community Center evacuation shelters also are accepting pets. As of Tuesday, there were about 98 dogs, 28 cats and 11 other species registered collectively at the two shelters.
Whitaker said HIHS is seeking donations to help rescued animals, including pet supplies, kennels and bedding. Visit www.hihs.org to donate.
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