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Animals in Crisis: How MSPCA-Nevins Farm Scrambled Emergency Shelter for Pets During Explosions, Fires

Nearly 100 Animals Sheltered Across the MSPCA Network During Height of the Emergency  

BOSTON and Methuen, Mass. Sept. 18, 2018 – While the majority of residents displaced by last week’s deadly Northern Massachusetts gas explosions have started to return home, the MSPCA-Nevins Farm has begun winding down its largest local disaster response operation in living memory, one that saw nearly 100 animals sheltered across the MSPCA network as entire towns evacuated.

As news broke on Thursday of widespread explosions and fires in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence, the MSPCA responded by opening its Nevins Farm adoption center in nearby Methuen to any animal who needed emergency shelter.  The MSPCA’s Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston and MSPCA-Angell West in Waltham also opened their doors, and ultimately housed nearly two dozen animals between them at the height of the crisis.

“This is one of those situations where you don’t wait to be asked to help—you just jump in and do everything you can for the families across our region desperately worried about their pets,” said Mike Keiley, director of adoption centers and programs for the MSPCA-Angell.

The Nevins Farm team staffed the adoption center phone line through the middle of the night beginning last Thursday, and a dedicated email address,, was created as a secondary channel through which pet owners could reach the staff.

“We managed the logistics in real time even as the disaster unfolded around us,” said Keiley.  “This was so different from emergencies like hurricanes [such as Florence] that you can prepare for because you know what’s coming.  We didn’t have the luxury of time—we were literally setting up kennels even as people showed up at our door with their pets.”

The MSPCA used its social platforms, primarily Facebook and Twitter, to deliver instructions and issue breaking news updates as the crisis evolved in the days after the explosions.  And by the weekend those posts had been shared thousands of times.

Scrambling to Make Space for New Arrivals

As word got out, the animals rushed in.  The Nevins Farm team apportioned space for new arrivals in the “training room,” the large room off the adoption floor used for dog training.  A massive bank of cages—nearly 100 in all—was assembled to house both cats and dogs, with the cages draped in sheets to soothe the animals’ frayed nerves.

The Nevins Farm isolation room—famously used last October to shelter eight dogs from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico—housed several dogs too scared to bunk down with others.

“We ended up canceling dog training classes for the weekend and a birthday party was moved to another part of our facility, but mostly everyone understood that the animals were our number-one priority,” said Keiley.

Donations Pile up

By Saturday some 600 packages of dog and cat food and over 50 boxes of cat litter had been donated to Nevins Farm, overwhelming the available floor space and narrowing hallways throughout the adoption center. On Sunday a delivery truck unloaded 57 boxes of supplies from the Nevins Farm wishlist—all purchased by individuals eager to help.  And more than $24,000 poured into the Nevins Farm adoption center fund.

The staff’s gratitude for the outpouring of support is boundless. “It’s amazing to us that even as hundreds of Merrimack Valley residents were evacuating their own homes they were thinking about other peoples’ animals—we’re so grateful to everyone who donated food and supplies to help us get through this extraordinary time,” said Meaghan O’Leary, director of the MSPCA-Nevins Farm adoption center.

The massive number of food donations allowed the Nevins Farm team to send each animal home with full supplies of food and litter—and in some cases volunteers brought those supplies directly to the doorstep of affected homeowners.  “We hope that this will help those affected return to some sense of normalcy now that the crisis is largely over,” said O’Leary.

Surplus dog and cat food that cannot use will be donated to area food pantries.

Next Steps

As of today 23 animals remain in the organization’s care.  All are expected to return to their families by mid-week.  The Nevins Farm staff is taking a collective exhale.  “It’s been an exhausting week filled with highs and lows,” said Keiley.  “But more than anything this emergency underlined the critical role that animal welfare organizations like ours play when disaster strikes, and we’ll never rest until every vulnerable animal is safe.”