More than three weeks after the catastrophic earthquakes that hit southern Turkey and northern Syria, desperate barks and meows can still be heard coming from abandoned and collapsed buildings.
“What we saw when we arrived… was a really, really sad picture. Devastating. Almost all buildings are collapsed - 80 per cent of them,” says Felipe Marquez, a program manager for Humane Society International (HSI).
Marquez is on the ground in Antakya, Turkey responding to requests from locals to find their missing pets.
“Every day here our team is heading out to search for animals in the worst affected areas,” says Kelly Donithan, HSI’s director of animal disaster response. “Thousands of rescued dogs and cats are in urgent need of veterinary care as they cope with injuries, shock, dehydration and malnutrition.”
‘Knowing that their pet companions are safe means a lot’
HSI is working with a team of local vets to treat injured animals in a field hospital tent, distributing emergency supplies and leaving water bowls on street corners for roaming animals.
“People who evacuated are worried for their pets left behind, so wherever possible we locate their apartments and find them,” says Kelly. “It’s clear that for the people here who have lost everything, to know that their pet companions are safe means a lot”
HSI’s efforts have been rewarded with some miraculous reunions.
Turkey earthquakes: A voicenote brought this cat back to its owner
A grey cat named Leyla was left behind after her injured owner, Rumi, was transferred to a hospital in Istanbul. Leyla had woken Rumi shortly before the quake, giving her time to jump out the window and likely saving her life.
Desperate to know if her pet was safe, Rumi placed an advert on Facebook.
This was passed on to HSI, who went to the site of her house - about an hour outside Antakya - which had completely collapsed. There was no sign of Leyla.
In a final attempt to find the missing cat, Kelly asked Rumi to record a voice message calling her pet’s name. The rescuers played the message to try and lure her out after dusk and, after a lot of patience, Leyla finally emerged.
Delighted, Rumi flew back to Antakya with both legs in casts for a tearful reunion.
Turkey earthquakes: Facebook helped rescuers track down this cat’s family
Fluffy - a cream-grey cat who truly lives up to her name - was spotted by the military in a third-floor apartment window.
After using a drone to see inside the building, HSI was able to get inside and rescue Fluffy. She was found to have impaired kidneys due to dehydration. Her rescuers believe she had been trapped inside for 2.5 weeks.
Unfortunately she is not microchipped, but one of HSI’s team was able to locate her owner on Facebook using a name spotted on the apartment. As well as messaging them, HSI featured Fluffy on a Facebook Live stream in the hopes she would be recognised.
Her owner responded and is thrilled she is safe.
Turkey animal rescues: A microchip paid off for this cat
When a cat named Muffin was spotted by local police in a crumbling fourth floor apartment, HSI had to use a crane to reach the balcony and rescue her.
After a lot of patience and coaxing with cat treats, Kelly managed to bring Muffin down safely, much to the delight of the police who stayed throughout the entire rescue.
Muffin was scanned which revealed she was microchipped. As a result, rescuers were able to track down her family and reunite them with their beloved pet. They confirmed they had not seen Muffin for more than two weeks.
How can you help those affected by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria?
Charities and NGOs have set up emergency appeals to help victims of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.
To help animals, too in need of food, supplies, refuge and medical aid, you can donate to HSI’s Animal Rescue Fund.
If your pet is missing in Antakya, you can contact the Turkish Veterinary Union Earthquake Coordination Center on 054 3903 7413. If your pet is missing in other parts of the country, HSI may still be able to advise - email them at firstname.lastname@example.org with as much information as possible.