Rex to the Rescue on Grand Bahama Island
In the Bahamas, hurricanes come and go. People expect them and prepare accordingly. So, when Hurricane Dorian loomed in the fall of 2019, the staff and volunteers of the Humane Society of Grand Bahama Island weren’t too worried. Situated on relatively high ground and equipped with a good drainage system, their building, housing the office, vet clinic, and shelter, had weathered previous hurricanes well.
Since 1968, the Humane Society of Grand Bahama has been an essential resource for the people of the island and their pets, operating an animal shelter and providing much-needed veterinary services, especially vaccination and spay/neuter, to those who can’t afford them. Over the years it’s grown from a small local group helping a few animals to the largest animal welfare group in the Bahamas. Along the way, they’ve worked with mainland rescue groups and other partners to find adoptive families for thousands of homeless dogs and cats.
Dorian wasn’t their first hurricane, and they were prepared.
But Dorian was different. It parked itself directly over the island for 42 hours, causing catastrophic, unprecedented flooding from rain and storm surges. Floodwaters rose to the building’s top floor as staff and volunteers struggled to get animals to safety, and suddenly found themselves submerged to their necks on the top floor. They lashed themselves together and swam for their lives out a window. Over 100 animals at the shelter perished in the flood, but 173 miraculously survived. The building, the vet clinic, the supplies, all a total loss — and, in the wake of the disaster, they were all sorely needed to treat sick and injured animals, and deal with the many disease vectors springing up amid the devastation to threaten both human and animal health.
Rex Board Member Rosalie Howarth learned of all this through her longtime friend and radio colleague Dusti Rhodes, who had volunteered with HSGB when she lived on the island, became friends with executive director Tip Burrows, and continued to help with adoption and other efforts after returning to San Francisco. When Rhodes was finally able to make contact with Burrows in the wake of the storm and recognized the magnitude of the disaster, she asked Howarth if Rex could help.
“Rex has struggled historically with how to appropriately respond in the face of international natural disasters. Getting the money to the intended recipients, and confirming that it actually reaches the victims, is a tremendous obstacle,” Rosalie says. But in this case, there was an existing, U.S.-based nonprofit, the Kohn Foundation, serving HSGB directly, ensuring that the funds would get to their proper destination. “The Bahamas were by far the worst hit during Hurricane Dorian,” she added, “and this could be our contribution to help recovery efforts from this devastating disaster.”
Through the Kohn Foundation, Rex gave HSGB a grant for $5,000, to be used to provide medical care and vaccinations for animals on the island, benefiting both human and animal health and well-being as residents struggled to recover from the disaster.
Thanks in part to Rex’s grant, HSGB just took delivery of a state-of-the-art clinic van, which currently allows them to provide veterinary services on the site of their headquarters until the building is restored. Then it will go on the road, providing services in remote parts of the island where there are lots of people, lots of animals, and lots of poverty. Residents often had difficulty making the trek, but now free vet care and spay/neuter services can come to them, neighborhood by neighborhood.
And in a touching tribute to some of the dogs and cats who didn’t make it through the hurricane, their photos now adorn the van’s exterior.
“The last five months have been rough,” admits Burrows. “But we’re really excited at the silver lining in all this, that thanks to our supporters, including Rex, we are now better able to address the real needs here and provide services.”