National Geographic Society Newsroom

Who’s helping Haiti’s animals?

While much of the world’s attention quite rightly focused on human survivors of the massive earthquake in Haiti six months ago, thousands of animals were also left homeless and in need of food and medical attention. Dogs, cats, goats, horses, cattle were among the many stranded when their owners perished or dispersed. The many abandoned...

While much of the world’s attention quite rightly focused on human survivors of the massive earthquake in Haiti six months ago, thousands of animals were also left homeless and in need of food and medical attention.

Dogs, cats, goats, horses, cattle were among the many stranded when their owners perished or dispersed. The many abandoned and injured animals posed a serious health threat to animals and humans alike.

A coalition of animal welfare charities mobilized to help. This is what they did in the six months since the quake:

By Gerardo Huertas

It’s been six months since the earthquake in Haiti. Every day since then, two dogs roam around the rubble of their home. Sniffing and pawing at rocks. They wait loyally for their masters to return–but, sadly, they never will.


Caption: Two dogs have stayed for months in the rubble of their home, waiting for their masters who died in the earthquake, Haiti.

Photo courtesy of WSPA

It’s a common scene in post-disaster Haiti; many animals in Port au Prince and surrounding areas became orphaned following the earthquake. Thousands of other animals in the country also faced injury or sickness immediately after the disaster. This not only hindered the many Haitians who rely on animals for their economic well-being, but also increased the threat of disease spreading from animal to human.

“Immediately after the earthquake, there was a critical need to deliver aid as quickly as possible, to as many animals as possible,” said James Sawyer, Head of Disaster Management at the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA.) “The only way to do this successfully was to form one global coalition of animal welfare organizations, and then work closely with Haitian government officials, the United Nations and other international agencies to define the country’s most pressing animal-related problems.”

The Animal Relief Coalition for Haiti (ARCH,) was formed just days after the quake by WSPA and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to coordinate disaster relief efforts and address the needs of Haiti’s surviving animals and their owners.


Caption: Gaspar Cerilus (right) 11 years old, his brother Makendi (left) 9 years old, and his friend Carl Andre Gabriel (middle) also 11, have brought their goats to the ARCH clinic to have them treated. These animals are a valuable income source to their families in Haiti.

Photo courtesy of WSPA

“In Haiti, it’s important to approach animal welfare from a human welfare aspect because, by vaccinating every animal, we are not only helping the animals, but also thousands of people,” added Kevin Degenhard, project manager for ARCH and chief superintendent at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).

After the earthquake, Degenhard–along with Dr. Jean Francois Thomas, a veterinarian in Haiti for more than 20 years–trained a local team of three veterinarians, three vet technicians and two security personnel. The backbone of the operation is ARCH’s mobile veterinary clinic, which allows the team to travel into earthquake-stricken neighborhoods and provide aid and vaccinations to thousands of dogs, cats, goats, cattle, horses and other animals.


Caption: Dr. Sergio Vazques of WSPA and Dr. François Thomas drive the ARCH mobile clinic through the neighborhood of Pelerin where they treated more than 100 animals in a day.

Photo courtesy of WSPA

“Our original goal was to treat 14,000 animals in one year. But, in the first two months, our team of 10 people had already treated 12,700 animals. Today, we’ve far surpassed the 25,000 mark. I’m just so impressed with the way we all came together as a team,” added Degenhard.


Caption: A local child brings his puppy for treatment at the ARCH mobile clinic, Haiti.

Photo courtesy of WSPA

ARCH has also begun repairing the wall around Haiti’s National Veterinary Laboratory and main lab infrastructure, which fell during the earthquake, and are about to install 24 solar-powered refrigeration units, which are critical to storing animal vaccinations. And, while early results are encouraging, the coalition knows that a long-lasting solution is only possible through continued animal welfare education.

“The more people we inform–either through the public medium or through schools–the more people are actually going to have their animals treated,” said Degenhard. “And, if people see that we’re helping them to prevent disease in animals, and disease in themselves, then I think they’ll embrace further developments in animal care as years go by in this country.”


Caption: The local team working with ARCH was able to provide basic veterinarian services for approximately 500 animals per day. In Haiti, most people cannot pay these services, so it is a vital way to help animals and their owners.

Photo courtesy of WSPA

Later this month, ARCH will launch a public awareness campaign to educate Haitians about disaster preparedness, pet care and health issues related to their pets and families. It is also currently conducting Haiti’s first-ever dog and cat survey, which will help establish a baseline for evaluating the country’s pet population, incidence of rabies, lab equipment needs and other factors.

No matter what challenges the country may face in the future, ARCH is confident that the people of Haiti will be much better prepared. “January 12 was a very strong wake-up call for everybody in the country; we will never let ourselves be caught by surprise again,” said Thomas.

Gerardo Huertas is the disaster operations director for WSPA. For more information on ARCH and its work in Haiti, please visit

Join Nat Geo News Watch community

Readers are encouraged to comment on this and other posts–and to share similar stories, photos and links–on the Nat Geo News Watch Facebook page. You must sign up to be a member of Facebook and a fan of the blog page to do this.

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Meet the Author

Author Photo David Max Braun
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn