The world is watching as the tragedies unfold in Japan from the record-breaking earthquake and tsunami of yesterday. While Hawaii and the western coast of the U.S. suffered damage from the aftermath, the death toll and unimaginable damage in Japan continues. As humanitarian organizations, rescue teams and supplies swarm to Japan, those of you who love animals may wonder if anything is happening to help the animals caught in the disaster.

My former employer, American Humane Association, has an amazing team of professionals trained in disaster response, rescue and sheltering …. the Red Star Animal Emergency Services. They have been on the ground in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake. Red Star is monitoring the situation in Japan, collaborating with international partners, and waiting for guidance from Japanese officials. In the meantime, a relief fund is being set up so that resources will be available once animal rescue efforts are underway. If you feel compelled to help, consider donating to the relief fund.

When a disaster strikes, whether natural or man-made, it is a time for people to come together and help one another. Immediate and wide spread efforts to help are underway …. from the Red Cross to Lady Gaga creating a prayer bracelet to benefit the victims of the disaster. It is also a time when some question efforts to help animals under the belief that those who wish to help animals do not care about helping people … that providing help to animals is at the expense of the people. As a professional who works to protect both people and animals, I can say that is wholly untrue. Organizations who come to the aid of animals in disasters do so as partners with human-welfare organizations and in a collaborative spirit. When animals, both domesticated, wild and agriculture, are caught in a disaster, it can create a public health hazard for all. And people who evacuated with their pets need help to remain with their pets during the crisis. Ignoring animals in disasters only sets up the foundation for wide spread disease, contaminated waters, and more for humans. The professionals who enter disaster areas to help humans and animals realize that their efforts go hand-in-hand.

So if you are concerned about the animals in Japan and receive any criticism for your worries, please remind those critics that just because you care about the animals does not mean that you care any less about the people. We are all one. And let this unspeakable disaster be a reminder to us all to create our own disaster plan for the people and pets in our lives. Let’s keep prayers and well wishes flowing to the people and animals in Japan.