How to tell Joe Biden’s Lahaina appearance from ASPCA fundraising appeals
KAHULUI, Maui, Hawaii––Among the obvious differences between U.S. President Joe Biden’s August 21, 2023 photo-op appearance at firestorm-razed Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii, and American SPCA [ASPCA] fundraising appeals claiming “Our team is on the ground in Maui,” is that visual confirmation of Biden’s six-hour presence in Lahaina, with wife Jill, is easily found.
So is documentation of Joe Biden’s current salary, which at $450,000 per year including expense account is less than half of the $966,000 ASPCA president Matt Bershadker collected in 2020, according to the most recent available ASPCA filing of IRS Form 990.
Photo “from previous ASPCA rescue”
The ASPCA itself admits in almost invisible fine print at the top of those fundraising appeals that the photo is “from previous ASPCA rescue,” though transmitting photos from the scene by electronic media would be quick and easy, if anyone from the ASPCA was actually at the scene to take photos.
Just what was rescued in the “previous ASPCA rescue” is unclear, but four trees evidently much taller than even the famed Lahaina banyan, still bearing apparent conifer foliage, suggest a very different sort of disaster in a very different sort of place.
ANIMALS 24-7 found one source on Facebook appearing to confirm that the ASPCA had personnel on Maui, but not in the Lahaina fire zone, as of late on August 22, 2023.
ANIMALS 24-7 also found a multitude of Maui sources agreeing that wherever the ASPCA personnel were, they had not been allowed into the fire zone.
Animal rescuers continue to be kept out of the fire zone
Worse, two weeks after the Lahaina firestorm, none of the Maui-based animal rescue groups had been allowed in, either.
Also excluded were animal rescue teams sent by at least three other organizations based on the U.S. mainland, many days before the ASPCA claimed to be on Maui.
Trapping around the fire zone perimeter, the Maui Humane Society had reportedly taken in 59 animals from Lahaina as of mid-day on August 22, 2023, of whom 12 were hospitalized for treatment of injuries, primarily burns.
Search for missing humans nearly done
The search for human remains, using cadaver dogs, the pretext for excluding animal rescuers, is reportedly almost completed, with 115 victims found.
The ashes of all single-family homes have now been “cleared,” according to the Federal Emergency Management Administration [FEMA], with searches of the remnants of several large multi-unit residential buildings underway.
More than 700 Lahaina residents are still officially missing, but Butte County, California sheriff Kory Honea pointed out to Associated Press that more than 1,300 people were initially unaccounted for after the 2018 fire that razed the city of Paradise. Eventually all but the 85 confirmed dead were accounted for, with one exception whom Honea was fairly certain was out of town when the fire hit.
On the other hand, Associated Press reported, “Nearly 22 years later, almost 1,100 victims of the 9/11 terror attacks, which killed nearly 3,000, have no identified remains.”
Fire zone search for 1,100 missing pets has not yet started
The Maui Humane Society has meanwhile compiled a list of more than 1,100 pets who are still unaccounted for in Lahaina. Many very likely died in the firestorm, and most of those animals’ remains will never be found or identified.
Yet many other animals, chiefly cats, have not only been seen but photographed, repeatedly, from outside the fenced fire zone, an area of only five square miles.
“Residents have been holding protests outside of Maui County mayor Richard Bissen’s office demanding the affected area be opened up to rescue personnel specifically searching for pets and other animals,” reported Christine Hitt of SFGate.
“Not expecting them to let us all in like maniacs”
“We’re not expecting [them] to let us all in like maniacs looking all over for our fur babies,” but at least a rescue team that can go in there to find our pets, to go location by location, escorted, or however authorities can decide for that to be done,” Lahaina resident Romina Bengohechea told Hitt.
“Bengohechea had seven indoor cats,” Hitt mentioned, “but two of them wiggled away as she was loading her car trying to escape the fire.”
“Every day I drive by the area,” Bengohechea said. “My GPS on my phone keeps picking up reception from [one of my cat’s] AirTag, right at the complex next door to my house, but we’re not allowed to go in.”
Incidentally, a photo accompanying Hitt’s article identified as Romina Bengohechea is the same photo obtained and published earlier by ANIMALS 24-7, showing a cat rescuer identified to us as Rumi Roms. ANIMALS 24-7 has not yet established whether Romina Bengohechea and Rumi Roms are the same person.
Maui Humane Society CEO remains diplomatic
“While our eagerness to enter the impacted area and provide aid to all animals is resolute,” Maui Humane Society chief executive Lisa Labreque told media, “we comprehend and respect the guidelines established by the county.
“Our dedicated search and rescue teams remain on standby,” Labreque said, “ready to deploy and respond to the needs of animals within the burn zone.”
Posted Kitty Charm Farm founder Sarah Haynes on August 21, 2023, whose animal care facility is among those closest to Lahaina, “Just completed a zoom conference call with the Maui Humane Society, and a number of other animal rescues and trappers on the island. We were hoping this call was going to be our activation plan. Instead we are still waiting. Everybody is really disappointed including the Maui Humane Society.
“We are still taking in a lot of cats”
“My understanding is that the area is so toxic,” Haynes said, “that our government doesn’t want to send anybody in. You need to hazmat suit and training. Our hope is that they [FEMA] will at least let their own first responders trap.
“Many of the rescues have equipped first responders with carriers, cat food, and bowls,” Haynes said, “in case they see anybody. They are the only ones pulling animals out at this time, and we are so grateful for them. It is devastating that nobody is able to get in there and save these animals.
“Back at the home front,” Haynes added, “we are still taking in a lot of cats. Some of them are fire victims, and others are victims of road closures and lack of food. A friend pulled 10 cats off the street in one night who were failing and I brought them to emergency center. One passed before we could get there. But all the others are doing great, some here and some in foster homes.”
“Jeopardizing the welfare of the surviving animals”
“The officials who are keeping Maui Humane Society and their professional animal rescue partners sidelined ‘at the perimeter’ are jeopardizing the welfare of the surviving animals,” charged former Oahu resident and veteran animal disaster responder Mike Merrill, now heading Florida Urgent Rescue in Jacksonville, Florida, “inflicting additional emotional trauma on survivors desperate to save their missing pets.”
Keeping close tabs on the Lahaina situation, Merrill appears to be speaking out on behalf of many Maui-based animal rescue organizations whose people feel they cannot speak out without jeopardizing any chance to help that otherwise might develop.
“As of today,” Merrill said on August 22, 2023, “the Bissell Animal Rescue Disaster Response Team,” which has been in Maui, “announced that it will support the Maui Humane Society ‘virtually.’ Translation: They’re tired of standing around at the perimeter not being allowed to do their jobs, so they’re going home. That’s a travesty.
“Plan is misguided for several reasons”
“The new plan,” Merrill summarized, “seems to be: (1) wait for someone from the police, National Guard, or FEMA to notice a stray animal; and (2) bring that stray animal to the Maui Humane Society people waiting at the perimeter.
“This plan is misguided for several reasons:
“1. Most stray dogs and cats often go into survival mode. Even dogs who slept in the bed with people for years will run from their family when they’re in survival mode. They are not going to just let someone pick them up and carry them to them to the perimeter. If someone tries to chase them or catch them, they’ll get spooked and may disappear. They need to be trapped, not necessarily a quick and easy process.
“Many strays won’t even be seen”
“2. Many strays won’t even be seen without motion sensor cameras. We have trapped many dogs whom we have never physically laid eyes on until we trapped them. We use feeding stations, traps, and motion sensor cameras.
“3. These surviving animals won’t be sitting out at the street corner waiting for a friendly police officer or National Guard soldier to pick them up. They’ll be hunkered down, hiding, coming out at night, when nobody is around. They will need to be trapped by experienced animal rescuers who know what they’re doing.
“4. The Governor and National Guard Adjutant General are adamantly insisting that there are no surviving animals in the burn zone. How can they possibly know that? That they didn’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
“5. Most of those professional animal rescue teams have far more experience working in disaster zones than the police officers and National Guard soldiers currently patrolling the burn zone.
“I can speak to both sides”
“I’m not slighting them,” Merrill stipulated. “I was in the National Guard and I have great respect for the police and National Guard. I’ve also spent thousands of hours in disaster zones and trapping missing animals, so I can speak to both sides,” Merrill argued.
As to the ASPCA fundraising appeals, Merrill told ANIMALS 24-7, “We saw that after the Kentucky tornado. They [the big organizations] all came in for one day, pulled a few dogs, and left, then did ad campaigns for the next two months. Same thing in Ukraine,” where Merrill was involved in animal rescue operations for ten days after the February 2022 Russian invasion.
“The big organizations raised a ton, and the small boots on the ground groups struggled,” Merrill finished.