How you can help the animals and shelters of the Bahamas

Silhouette of a dog in the water on a sunset backgroundWhen Hurricane Dorian threatened Florida, shelters and animal welfare organizations across the country stepped up to help. Now it’s our turn to help the devastated shelters of the Bahamas. But among all the bad news, rumors, and offers of help, how can we stay effective and not create more problems than we solve?

The roads, airports, docks, housing, businesses, and infrastructure of the Bahamas are not functioning. The entire country is now largely unemployed. Droves of volunteers flooding the island nation will further drain resources at this critical time. For the same reasons, sending unsolicited equipment, supplies, veterinary products, or food before infrastructure is in place will create problems of shipment, unloading, and storage.

“The best step you can take at this time is to donate funds,” said Dr. Julie Levy, Fran Marino Endowed Professor of Shelter Medicine Education at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine. “Funds allow for delivery of the right resource to the right place in an ever-changing landscape, often with more buying power than you have as an individual. Give generously to organizations you can rely on to make wise use of the funds.”

She added, “There is little reliable information yet on the status of animals in the Bahamas. Obviously human rescue will come first, but we support the international animal welfare organizations that are staging up to fly in as soon as access is granted.” She encouraged financial donations to these charities to have the greatest impact for the animals in the Bahamas (this list will be updated as more information emerges):

  • The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
    People and animals in the Bahamas are in dire need of help recovering from Hurricane Dorian’s wreckage. When disasters strike, IFAW is there to rescue animals and reunite families. Donate here
  • is working closely with international partners to provide relief for people and pets on the islands. Your donation will go to disaster relief fund to help those affected. Donate here
  • Wings of Rescue
    When disaster strikes, Wings of Rescue will be there to respond. During the catastrophic 2017 hurricane season, Wings of Rescue flew over 50 flights bringing over 4,500 pets to safety and on the same flights bringing over 125 tons of urgently needed humanitarian aid and pet food to the afflicted areas. Donate here

“Do not self-deploy,” Dr. Levy cautioned. “Sign up with a group and wait for instructions regarding how your skills can be put to best use. Volunteers who arrive outside of the incident command system and who are not self-sufficient can unintentionally disrupt response systems and divert resources from the rescue missions underway.”

Protocols to minimize the risk of disease spread during animal rescue

The UF Shelter Medicine Program supports the network of established response organizations and state agencies to streamline the importation process in a way that protects the welfare of the state’s current shelter animal population. Of particular importance is adhering to protocols that prevent the spread of distemper and parvovirus, which are more common in the Bahamas than the states.

“All of us at the UF Shelter Medicine Program are grateful to those of you whose organizations are considering taking in animals from hurricane-impacted shelters in the South Carolina and North Carolina coastal regions​ as well as from the Bahamas,” said Program Director Dr. Cynda Crawford. “We salute all the groups that provide life-saving assistance in these times of severe need, and want to make sure you’re aware of the risk for bringing in distemper or parvovirus from these locations. Shelters receiving dogs from coastal North Carolina shelters after Hurricane Florence last year experienced shelter-wide outbreaks of distemper or parvo introduced by infected dogs. The prevalence of distemper and parvo in street dogs in the Bahamas is high.”

Receiving shelters and rescue groups should take special precautions to prevent transmission of these deadly viruses to other dogs in their care. Here are some tips to reduce the risk and support a successful outcome for all:

  • Insure all resident dogs in the shelter or foster homes are properly vaccinated against distemper and parvo. Every dog should have received at least two DAPP vaccines. If in doubt, re-vaccinate.
  • Get information on medical care and health status of new dogs before taking them. Unvaccinated dogs and sick dogs are very high risk for introducing distemper and parvo.
  • Quarantine the new dogs. House them in an isolation room or other area that is completely separate from resident dogs. Do not house them near puppies or dogs with incomplete vaccination.​ Sick dogs should not be housed with healthy-appearing dogs.
  • The initial quarantine period is 2 weeks. This is required for identifying distemper and parvo-infected dogs.
  • Staff caring for quarantined dogs should wear protective clothing to prevent cross-contamination of the resident dogs.
  • Monitor for disease. Distemper-infected dogs typically start with kennel cough or vomiting/diarrhea. Parvo-infected puppies AND adults have vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Vaccinate all new dogs with DAPP on arrival and again at the end of the quarantine period. This should be done regardless of past vaccination history.

Update: Guidance for organizations bringing animals to the U.S. from the Bahamas

This post will be updated as circumstances and resources change.