updated 10/31/2012 AT 4:00 PM ET
•originally published 10/31/2012 AT 5:25 PM ET
When one family in New Jersey had to make the difficult decision to evacuate their home in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy, they listened to emergency managers who told them to leave their dog behind.
But when they walked into the makeshift shelter at Arthur Brisbane Child Treatment Center in Well Township, N.J., they saw other families had brought their pets with them.
“They contacted the emergency manager, who then dispatched someone to go back to their location,” Niki Dawson, director of disaster services for the Humane Society of the United States, tells PEOPLE. The dog was rescued and reunited with the “very grateful” family.
Up and down the East Coast, animal rescuers are working diligently to free furry friends that have been left stranded by the storm’s path and keep owners and their pets from being separated, with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) reporting that New York City and Long Island shelters have taken in almost 400 animals.
In New York City, the HSUS helped ensure “that all emergency human shelters must accept animals,” Dawson said. “[And that] the mass transit system also has to accommodate animals during times of disaster. That was really, really key in making sure people adhered to those mandatory evacuation notices.”
Although temporary animal shelters – many started by volunteers – have proven effective, Dawson notes it’s too soon to tell how many animals have truly been affected by Hurricane Sandy.
“We don’t really have a clear assessment yet from some of the harder hit communities. There are some counties in New Jersey that are still assessing – Atlantic, Cape May, and parts of Monmouth and Ocean counties,” she said. “I suspect that as the hours go on, we’ll be getting more concrete statistics and information.”
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