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A Century of Compassion: American Humane Celebrates 100 Years of Rescuing Animals From Disasters

Born on the battlefields of World War I, America’s first national humane organization’s legendary animal rescue program has saved animals during every major natural and manmade disaster over the past century


For 100 years, one name has been synonymous with animal rescue in this country and around the world: American Humane. This year, America’s first national humane organization is celebrating a century of rescuing animals from war, hurricanes, floods, wild fires and other disasters, and to commemorate the occasion, they have released a historic timeline with remarkable photos capturing 100 years of American Humane’s animal rescue work, available here:

American Humane’s legendary animal rescue program was born on the battlefields of World War I Europe in 1916 when the U.S. Secretary of War asked the organization to save war horses. During that terrible time, they rescued and cared for 68,000 wounded horses a month and since the Great War they have been part of virtually every major disaster response from Pearl Harbor to 9/11; Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina; the Mount St. Helens eruption; the Joplin, Missouri tornado; the Japanese and Haitian earthquakes; and Superstorm Sandy. Over just the past ten years American Humane has saved, helped and sheltered more than 80,000 animals.

“From World War I to the worst terror attack on U.S. soil and some of the deadliest, most destructive hurricanes, floods and tornadoes ever, American Humane’s animal rescue program has been there wherever and whenever animals are in need,” said Dr. Robin Ganzert, the organization’s president and CEO. “We are proud to commemorate 100 years of animal rescue, but we know that there is still so much to do, which is why our program is working to expand its lifesaving reach.”

This month American Humane is commemorating the 100th anniversary of their rescue efforts with a gift to – and investment in – America’s animals. With generous funding from the William H. Donner Foundation and the Kirkpatrick Foundation, and the assistance of leading animal health company Zoetis, the organization unveiled a giant, 50-foot rescue vehicle at the New York Stock Exchange on May 9. The vehicle, which carries lifesaving supplies and equipment to shelter 100 animals, will be stationed in Oklahoma’s Tornado Alley, debuting on May 20th – the anniversary of the EF-5 tornado that devastated the city of Moore in 2013.

For over a century American Humane and their animal rescue team have been there for our best friends. Here are just a few of their hundreds of rescue efforts over the years:

  • 1916 With millions of horses dying in World War I, U.S. Secretary of War Newton D. Baker invites American Humane “to undertake the work of doing for Army animals in World War I what the American Red Cross is doing for soldiers.” American Humane creates American Red Star Animal Relief to rescue war horses on the battlefields of Europe. Soon they were caring for 68,000 wounded horses a month.
  • 1920 After the war, American Humane turns its attention to rescuing animals caught in disaster areas, and provides money to purchase feed that saves thousands of elk in Yellowstone National Park from starving to death.
  • 1937 The Mississippi River floods and American Humane helps rescue and feed stranded farm animals in Missouri.
  • 1940 American Humane begins preparations for the United States’ entry into World War II by working with communities across the country to establish evacuation points and air raid shelters for animals and finding volunteers to house potentially displaced animals. Thankfully these were never needed. The group makes a sizeable grant to Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Animals to provide food and shelter for pets and livestock whose homes were destroyed by German bombs.
  • 1941 Following the attack on Pearl Harbor – “a day which will live in infamy” – American Humane deploys to Pearl Harbor to aid in the recovery efforts.
  • 1951 American Humane begins training a “civil defense corps” to care for animals in disasters. Our national corps of hundreds of volunteers is made up of people from all walks of life – from firefighters to veterinarians to teachers – who all share one common goal: rescuing animals in need. These dedicated volunteers drop everything at a moment’s notice to help deploy with American Humane.
  • 1969 One of the most powerful hurricanes of all time – Hurricane Camille – strikes the Gulf Coast, and American Humane races to help rescue animals caught in the storm.
  • 1980 Mount St. Helens erupts in Washington State, instantly destroying 210 square miles of forest and killing millions of wild animals. Thousands of homeowners are forced to evacuate, leaving them with difficulty feeding and providing shelter for their pets. American Humane joins in the massive relief effort on behalf of these animals.
  • 1992 One of the worst disasters in American history strikes the Southeast, with the powerful Hurricane Andrew making landfall in Homestead, Florida, displacing more than 2 million people. American Humane deploys for six weeks to help care for the thousands of dogs and cats housed in makeshift shelters while their homeowners wait to return to their homes, or have their homes rebuilt. Many of these animals are eventually transported to shelters in the Northeast to find new homes and avoid being euthanized. 
  • 1996 One of American Humane’s more unusual animal rescue missions begins after a train with propane tanker cars derails near the small town of Weyauwega, Wisconsin. As a precaution, the entire town is evacuated and the townspeople are told to bring nothing with them – even their pets. Citizens begin to panic at the thought of their pets left behind with limited food and water. With a list of addresses and the keys to the homes with pets, American Humane rides through the streets in an army tank to retrieve the animals. Making trip after trip, all are eventually reunited with their happy owners.
  • 2001 America attacked! After terrorists strike the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on September 11th, American Humane delivers supplies and equipment to New York City and helps care for the 300 search-and-rescue dogs searching for survivors in the rubble.
  • 2005 American Humane deploys to Louisiana to help animal victims of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma. With 18,000 man-hours logged by volunteers and staff over more than six weeks, it is the longest and most extensive disaster response in American Humane’s history.
  • 2012 After Superstorm Sandy devastates the Eastern Seaboard, American Humane rushes to help the animals of New York and New Jersey, delivering hundreds of thousands of pounds of lifesaving food, supplies, and medicines.
  • 2015 Two American Humane animal rescue trucks join a dozen airplanes and volunteers nationwide for a lifesaving cross-country transport of hundreds of animals from overcrowded rural shelters to other shelters and foster groups where they get a second chance at life.

South Carolina’s “Thousand-year flood” prompts not one, but two, American Humane deployments to rescue, shelter, and care for animals stranded by the floodwaters.

Now entering its second century of rescuing animals in crisis, American Humane is preparing to meet new and growing challenges. While the organization has giant rescue trucks stationed in the Northeast, the Southeast, the Rocky Mountain area, and the Plains States, more of these trucks are needed for other disaster-prone regions of the country so that they may respond quickly when time is critical. The organization’s hope is to eventually have one rescue vehicle in each of the 10 FEMA regions across the country.  Then they can be there whenever, wherever animals are in need. 

And even when the skies are calm, American Humane intervenes in cruelty cases, helps prepare communities for the worst, educates schoolchildren on the vital role that animals play in our lives, and provides second chances to animal victims of abuse and neglect.

To see a historic timeline with photos capturing 100 years of American Humane’s animal rescue work, click here: To learn more or and to help American Humane’s rescue services expand its vital work saving animals, please visit

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