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Santa Rosa man leads animal-rescue efforts during disasters

The suffering of animals who are beyond rescue would make the disaster work Dick Green takes on impossible for those without his fortitude.

But after attending to animals during dozens of catastrophes over the past decade, the Santa Rosa man says he's "gotten very good at . . . seeing the bigger picture."

It's necessary sometimes to "get beyond the thing that is happening right in front of you," and focus on the larger mission, he said.

It's a requirement of his job as director of disaster response for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

It's also the lesson of his experience since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which he said demonstrated the value of collaboration and the need to reassess how animals fit into the nation's disaster planning.

"I might be a little emotionally tough, just because of what I've seen," said Green, who recently settled in Sonoma County from Spokane, Wash. "It's not that I'm calloused. I think, you just acquire a broader view. And if you don't, you don't survive."

A recent deployment in coastal Louisiana, where the storm surge that followed Hurricane Isaac brought severe flooding and misery to humans and animals alike, left Green with heartbreaking tales.

There was the horse that died chest-high in mud because its owner thought he would incur unwanted liability if Green's team came to the animal's aid.

A farmer who expected to lose most of his 75 cattle trapped for several days in mud and tainted floodwaters refused help, fearing intervention would jeopardize insurance reimbursements, Green said. The farmer ultimately agreed to have the cows euthanized where they stood. "It was heart-wrenching," Green said.

And there were no dry eyes when Green's rescue team had to pass by a cat treed high above the floodwaters because bringing it to safety would have taken too much time from the group's larger mission.

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