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.
"We have to prioritize," Green said. "That's the hardest part of my job. You do play God."
But far from grim, Green, 60, is an upbeat, athletic man delighted to be close to his childhood roots on the North Coast, though his travel schedule limits the time he gets to spend here.
In his ASPCA post, he's on call when disasters strike in the United States, jumping on a plane to help evacuate animals from harm's way. He also plays an important role guiding emergency planning and animal rescue policy for the ASPCA and it partner agencies, requiring frequent coast-to-coast trips.
Green "is very much a pioneer in animal disaster response," said Tim Rickey, head of the the ASPCA's field investigations and response team.
"That's not me hyping him because he's on my team or with the organization. That is the reality," Rickey said.
Raised in San Rafael until age 12, when he moved to Renton, Wash., Green was still a kid when he was first aided an animal in need, a tiny, lost German shepherd pup he met on his paper route. The dog, later named Silver, soon found a berth in Green's canvas newspaper pouch and, when its owner couldn't be located after several days, a new home, as well.
Green's devotion to animal welfare blossomed as he earned a doctorate in human biomechanics and pursued a 27-year teaching career, mostly at the University of Puget Sound and Gonzaga University.