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Hawaii News

Hundreds of animals among lava refugees

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Above, a rescued horse leaps into a trailer after considerable coaxing.

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Brian Spencer of Pepeekeo carries one of several rescued animals that he cares for at his farm.

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Brian Spencer of Konohiki Plantation in Pepeekeo has turned his farm into a temporary home for more than 100 rescued animals, including a goat named Bucky, above.

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Susie Regeimbal and Aaron Heintz shared a high-five on June 2 after rescuing two horses that were trapped by lava in a pasture in Kapoho on the Big Island.

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Brian Spencer of Konohiki Plantation in Pepeekeo has turned his farm into a temporary home for more than 100 rescued animals, including geese, above.

PEPEEKEO, HAWAII >> The humanitarian crisis in its sixth week on Hawaii island, forcing more than 400 people into shelters and away from erupting lava, also has taken a toll on animals in the area.

More than a couple hundred head of livestock and pets from farms and homes threatened or overtaken by lava also are refugees from the fiery destruction.

While many have been rescued and fostered by caring volunteers, some haven’t been so lucky and were lost or have perished — perhaps from noxious gases, lava or starvation.

Sam the ram, Ginger the dog, Bucky the goat and Maryanne the cow are among the lucky ones.

They are four of the 213 animals now living on a 27-acre fruit farm in Pepeekeo, about 8 miles north of Hilo, and about 33 miles north of the eruption that has covered about 5,000 acres of land in Puna.

Brian Spencer, the operator of Konohiki Plantation, reached out through Facebook, offering to take in animals for acquaintances in the rural Leilani Estates subdivision where lava began erupting May 3.

“I was expecting to get four or five,” Spencer said. “So many people were flooding me. They (animals) started pouring in over two weeks.”

Now, two Peruvian horses occupy a longan orchard. Geese and an Arabian horse were assigned to live among starfruit. Sheep and an adopted donkey that blends in with 12 donkeys Spencer already had cavort under rambutan trees. There’s even a bull named Jelly Bean who likes being petted.

Overall, rescued animals on the farm include three horses, three cows, 12 sheep, a donkey, a pig, a goat, two dogs, three cats, 25 geese, about 60 chickens, 36 ducks and two guinea fowl.

“It’s hard to count them all,” said Spencer, who already had chickens, ducks, six pigs, three dogs and a couple of “barn cats” on the farm where he lives with his partner, a physician.

Spencer isn’t the only one helping displaced animals.

Syndi Texeira of Keeau was initially asked through a friend to help retrieve a pet from Leilani Estates. The effort mushroomed into about 20 animals being brought to safety on the first day, she said.

“I was basically running around to neighbors asking if they needed help,” she said. “It was chaos.”

The effort involved corralling animals and taking them out of the subdivision where around 130 homes were destroyed by lava while many more were abandoned because of county evacuation orders. Texeira said cats were particularly difficult to catch.

Eventually, all of that work resulted in a Facebook page, Hawaii Lava Flow Animal Rescue Network, administered by six individuals, including Texeira, who started out as strangers but bonded over the shared cause. Through the network, animals have been placed in homes and facilities across the Big Island, sometimes with help from the Hawaii Island Humane Society.

In one case, someone asked for help taking two horses out of harm’s way as lava advanced toward Noni Farms Road, which became partially buried by lava. After fighting through fences and brush to get to the home on Noni Farms Road, Texeira’s daughter and Kristina Decosta managed to ride the horses out.

More recently, Texeira and Decosta rode a boat to Pohoiki to look for a three-legged dog nicknamed Sweetie Pie who had been lost in Kapoho. The dog’s owners said the dog had been missing for several days and that their house had been destroyed by lava, Texeira said.

The effort didn’t turn up Sweetie Pie, but Texeira said there was a good outcome.

“We did not find her, but we did find another dog and a cat,” she said. “It was amazing. We were surprised that they would have survived.”

Texeira said there have been sad moments seeing or smelling dead animals that had not survived the lava and the dangerous gases it produced.

Mimi Bergstrom of Holualoa was brought to tears by the outpouring of support for lost or trapped animals during the eruption.

“The whole community response is amazing,” she said during a stay in the Pahoa area where she volunteered at the grass-roots disaster victim assistance complex Puuhonua o Puna. “It’s like a beehive.”

The Hawaii Island Humane Society said it has rescued about 150 animals and either returned them to owners or found them foster homes.

The organization also participated in a Saturday meeting with government agencies, rescue volunteers and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to improve communication and develop a formal response plan that will benefit from aerial and ground assessments of Leilani Estates conducted Monday.

“Gaining permission and safe access to areas affected by the eruption remains a high priority for the task force,” the Humane Society said in a statement. “Firm plans and communication are now in place with the various agencies to seek permission to gain safe access to rescue animals and pets.”

On the grass-roots side, all the past and ongoing work to save animals has not been easy.

“We’ve worked long hours,” Texeira said. “It’s almost like a full-time job.”

The Hawaii Lava Flow Animal Rescue Network has raised about $17,000 after setting a $10,000 goal on gofundme.com.

Spencer of Konohiki Plantation said all the foster animals have made life a little crazy, but the community has pitched in by leaving him gift cards to Del’s Feed and Farm Supply store in Hilo. He said he also could use some help from those skilled in animal husbandry so that he can return to picking and delivering fruit from his orchards.

“It’s a lot of extra work,” he said of the animals, “but we’ll take care of them.”

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