As people evacuate their homes across the upper North Island, Alex Casey speaks to the founder of Huha about organising the biggest emergency pet shelter in the country in less than 48 hours.
If you are in Auckland and need emergency shelter for your pet, the HuhaNZ shelter is at 743 Papakura-Clevedon Road, Papakura, and can be reached on 027 441 6474.
Carolyn McKenzie, CEO of HuhaNZ (Helping You Help Animals New Zealand), has been flat out since she arrived in Auckland in the small hours of Sunday morning. She and her six person team at Huha had only just recovered from assisting livestock in Warkworth during the recent flooding when they got the call from MPI to have their emergency animal shelter service on standby as Cyclone Gabrielle approached the North Island last week.
As dogs yap excitedly in the background, McKenzie says they made the executive decision to leave Wellington immediately. “We hadn’t been given the official word yet, but we actually packed up and started creeping forward.” While staying over in Waiouru, they got the confirmation call: they were needed in Auckland as soon as possible. “We drove through the night with our two trailers, all just filled with temporary shelter building gear.”
Thanks to their friends at Dog NZ, Huha were able to secure a venue for an emergency shelter almost immediately – a large warehouse space usually used for dog shows in Papakura. They got to work constructing shelters and spaces for any animals needing a place to stay. “What we try and build is a home away from home for the animals full of love and comfort.” That means fluffy blankets, visual barriers between spaces and “lots of toys and walks”.
McKenzie says those spaces are already filling up. “We’ve had four greyhounds that have just come in, the owner had to carry them out of the house in waist-high flood water. They’re very emotional. It’s been a very, very scary and worrying time for them.” Some of the team have left the facility to assist in evacuations. “We went to help this family who had 15 schnauzers and two German Shepherds and a lovely farmer with a tractor ended up going in.”
Although the shelter is currently populated with dogs, McKenzie wants to stress that they will take in any animals in need of a temporary home. “Sometimes people evacuate with fish, so we’ve got a marine biologist on our team with portable, battery-operated oxygen aerators. We’ve brought anything that anyone might need that will be critical to their animal having quality care.” They’ve even brought a stock trailer with a portable cattle yard.
The Huha staff themselves are currently sleeping alongside the animals onsite. “We always believe when we go to a situation, we don’t want to be part of the problem,” says McKenzie. “So we always come very self sufficiently, but also we want to be close to the animals.” People are welcome to drop in anytime day or night, says McKenzie, and shouldn’t feel worried or embarrassed about bothering them unnecessarily.
“Even if it’s a false alarm, we will always take an animal and we’ll always give it the best possible care – we’ll also give the owner a cup of tea,” she says. If you are needing your pets off your hands for a “daycare” stay, or even an hour or two, McKenzie says that is all fine too. “Drop them off with us and go and do what you need to do,” she says. “We’re honestly just here to be used in a way that helps.”
With that, she apologises that she has to hang up and get back to work – in the short time we’ve been talking, she’s already missed three calls from people with animals needing help.