The banyan tree is alive––but so are the animals, if they get help now!
KAHULUI, Maui, Hawaii––Ten days and counting after the August 8, 2023 firestorm that razed Lahaina, efforts to save a banyan tree spreading over almost two acres have taken the mass media spotlight away from the human body count, stalled over the weekend at 114.
The banyan tree, to be sure, is a living being, donated by Protestant missionaries in India, planted in central Lahaina on April 24, 1873, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of first American Protestant mission to Hawaii.
But dogs, cats, and other pets still in Lahaina are living things too––sentient living beings, at least until they die of thirst and hunger, while experienced rescuers continue to be kept out of the burn zone.
“If arborists can work in the burn zone, why not animal rescuers?”
“It’s amazing that they’re trying to save the Banyan tree,” posted former Oahu resident and frequent Lahaina visitor Mike Merrill to the Maui Fires Pets Help Group page on Facebook.
“Fantastic news, actually,” Merrill continued. “But if arborists can work around the clock—in the burn zone—why aren’t animal rescuers permitted to help save surviving animals, in accordance with the PETS Act?
“The Pets Evacuation & Transportation Standards Act of 2006,” Merrill explained, “requires the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ensure that state and local emergency preparedness operational plans address the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals prior to, during, and following a major disaster or emergency.
“The key words,” Merrill emphasized, “are ‘following a major disaster or emergency.’ This is not a suggestion, and it’s not an opinion. It’s the law.
Why are Turkish disaster authorities more humane than those of the U.S.?
“I’m not suggesting,” Merrill said. “that random people should be permitted in the burn zone. But professional, experienced animal rescuers should be permitted to save animals while they can.
“Send escorts with small teams if it would make the authorities feel better. They don’t need to dig through ashes or disturb areas where there may be remains. They can stay on streets away from structures or rubble, but let them in. They can set out traps, cameras and feeding stations, and give food and water to surviving animals, and keep them alive—before it’s too late.
“We did exactly that after the earthquakes in Turkey,” recalled Merrill, now living in Florida, where he heads an organization called Florida Urgent Rescue. Merrill’s work in Turkey after the devastating earthquake of February 6, 2023 was documented on March 10, 2023 by Eric Avanier of News 4 television in Jacksonville, Florida.
“Even in areas where citizens were not allowed to go because it was considered too dangerous, animal rescuers were permitted in to trap surviving dogs and cats,” Merrill testified.
“We were routinely stopped by police and military to see what we were doing, and to make sure we were not looting, but we were allowed to rescue animals.”
“Mostly just me & Lea”
Mike Willensky and Lea Chassagny of Save Maui Cats, headquartered in Lahaina, never left after surviving the firestorm, and therefore remain able to help animals where others cannot go.
“We are an all-volunteer group working for decades to help with Lahaina’s cat overpopulation problems,” Willensky posted to Facebook. “Eight of our 12 volunteers lost their homes,” Willensky said, “and can no longer help. I also recently injured myself badly while feeding cats.
“It’s mostly just me and Lea helping every night now, feeding and trapping at the 25 locations they allow us access to. We need Lahaina volunteer feeders and trappers right now,” who would be abundant if the barricades to outside animal rescuers were down.
Animal Incident Management
“Search and rescue has cleared more than half of the closed zone in Lahaina,” Kitty Charm Farm founder Sarah Haynes attested, having been maintaining liaison for Willensky and others in the fire zone ever since the firestorm occurred.
“Yet they are still not letting the specialists the Maui Humane Society retained into the 58% of already cleared areas.
“The Maui Humane Society retained AIM,” Haynes explained. “AIM stands for Animal Incident Management. They are a project of the Bissell Pet Foundation. These are specialists who can be escorted in to rescue the pets of people who have already suffered so much.
“The Maui Humane Society desperately wants to rescue animals locked in apartments who have not had food or water for ten-plus days,” Haynes said. “And they would like to trap any live animals who are probably hanging on by a thread. Injured and burned animals cannot walk a mile and climb a chain link fence to get to the feeding station outside of it.
“The streets are mostly clear”
“If you take a look at the videos out there,” Haynes continued, “the streets are mostly clear and trucks and heavy machinery are driving on them constantly, as well as worker foot traffic.
“Going into buildings that have no fire damage to remove pets from apartments would not affect the search for remains in the burned areas,” Haynes argued. “And street-only trapping of desperate animals left to scavenge to survive would only help to preserve the integrity of the search.
“I understand this is an extremely sensitive topic because of the horrible insensitivity of humans and news crews we have all witnessed walking around in the wreckage,” Haynes posted. “But it is unreasonable to compare Animal Incident Management to those people. Animal Incident Management are trained professionals, just like FEMA, the police, and the others in there.”
Waiting for the green light
Affirmed Neighborhood Cats, whose national programs director Bryan Kortis is a South Maui resident, “Animal trappers and rescuers are not yet allowed into the burn zone. There does appear to be any number of cats in that area. We’re waiting at this point for the green light from the emergency management authorities to go in. In the meantime, we’re helping where we can and getting ready for the challenges ahead.
“For example,” Neighborhood Cats posted, “we’ve provided operating funds to a local nonprofit, Honi Honi Cats, which runs a 100-home foster network on Maui. They are clearing out their fosters by flying the current cats to mainland partners. This is making room for pets of displaced owners and cats rescued from Lahaina once they start coming in.”
Oregon Humane Society takes in 136 Maui animals
The Maui Humane Society on August 18, 2023 posted that “With the help of Greater Good Charities, Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, and Southwest Airlines, we got 136 animals on a flight to Oregon at 8:00 this morning.
“This huge transfer is critical,” the Maui Humane Society said, “It is allowing us to open up space in our shelter to make room for incoming animals from Lahaina who will remain in the Maui Humane Society’s care indefinitely. And it’s opening up foster homes to make room for more adoptable animals that we will continue to receive.”
The Maui Humane Society also thanked the Oregon Humane Society for helping to arrange the mass transfer.
Nationals act like the signifying monkeys, with their palms out
Of note, meanwhile, is that while many national and international charities have been very aggressively raising funds around the Lahaina firestorm through social media, conspicuously absent from the ongoing struggle to open up access to rescuers have been the American SPCA [ASPCA], Animal Survival International, Best Friends Animal Society, Humane Society of the U.S., International Fund for Animal Welfare, and Network for Animals.
If any of the above have so much as sent a relevant email to the authorities keeping Maui-based and even FEMA-accredited animal charities on the scene out, cc. has not reached ANIMALS 24-7, nor any of our multitude of other sources helping us to report about the Lahaina disaster.
Franklin Trejo & Kenyero Fuentes died with their dogs
Finally, at this writing only eight of the 114 known Lahaina human dead have been publicly identified either by the disaster relief authorities or by their next of kin.
Two of those eight died with their dogs: Franklin Trejo, 68, who died protecting his golden retriever Sam, and Kenyero Fuentes, 14.
Kenyero Fuentes, reported Vanessa Romo for National Public Radio, “was home alone. Classes for juniors at Lahainaluna High School didn’t start for another day, so the boy was delighted to relish his final day of summer vacation. The rest of the family were all working at a nearby condominium. They operate a local cleaning business, servicing resorts and apartment buildings in Honokowai, about five miles away.”
Upon learning that the fire was approaching Lahaina, the family raced back in an attempted rescue, but too late.
“What they found,” Romo related, “was Fuentes’s charred body on a pile of debris in what had been his bedroom. The family dog was lying just a few inches away.”
Is that not sufficient reason to allow residents and rescuers to try to retrieve animals who may be all they have left?