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A Rescue Mission Is Underway To Save Pets On Hawaii's Big Island Lost Since The Volcano Eruption

"It’s a sad situation. They had to evacuate so fast and lots of people thought they’d go back the next day."

Posted on May 10, 2018, at 4:02 a.m. ET

Michelle Broder Van Dyke / BuzzFeed News / Via BuzzFeed News

Hawaii Island Humane Society control officer Justin Crusat bringing out a pit bull that was rescued from Leilani Estates after it was evacuated due to a lava threat.

Many people are drawn to the east side of Hawaii's Big Island because of the country lifestyle, the seclusion, and the huge gardens, which also makes it perfect for people who love living with animals or who keep guard dogs.

But when the ground in Leilani Estates exploded open during a lava eruption last week, residents were forced to evacuate themselves and their pets, while some animals just got spooked and ran off.

Along with 250 people, 81 dogs and 28 cats were checked into the Red Cross shelter set up for evacuees at Pahoa. At least a dozen horses were evacuated to the Panaewa Zoo, which has an equestrian center.

AFP / Getty Images

Dr. Tim Richards, a veterinarian on the island and county council member, checks on evacuee Andrew Linne's dog Scotty at the Pahoa Community Center on May 5.

People whose pets have been lost — many of them spooked by the massive earthquake on Friday or by the dramatic sounds of the lava eruption — are being encouraged to report their missing animals to the Hawaii Island Humane Society.

"It’s a sad situation," said Adam Pereira, the shelter manager at the Hawaiian Island Humane Society. "They had to evacuate so fast and lots of people thought they’d go back the next day."

The Hawaii Island Humane Society combed through every street on Leilani Estates Tuesday looking for pets still remaining in the neighborhood. It was the third mission to retrieve animals since the area was evacuated on Thursday.

Michelle Broder Van Dyke / BuzzFeed News

Adam Pereira

The first time the humane society went into the evacuated zone on Saturday, it retrieved six dogs and two tortoises, Pereira told BuzzFeed News.

He said the two giant tortoises were in a kennel and their owner had reported that they needed to be retrieved. However, some of the dogs were not as easy to catch. There was a chihuahua who wouldn't let Pereira get close. He ended up coaxing the pup into a fenced-in area with food and water, where he slipped a leash on the chihuahua.

"I reunited them with the owner as soon as I got out," Pereira said with a big smile on his face.

Megan Funck, a 32-year-old resident of Leilani Estates, told BuzzFeed News that when she was evacuating, she left her cat inside her home because she thought she would be able to return the next day with a pet carrier. "Then the next day they had blocked it all off," Funck said. By the time she was allowed back in, her cat had escaped through the window. Unfortunately, the Humane Society has struggled to find missing cats.

"It's harder to catch cats," Pereira said. "I’ve seen maybe one cat and I tried to go up to it but it darted off."

Pereira said he has been "trying to figure out how to put cat traps" in Leilani Estates but is concerned about accessing them later.

"I can’t have a cat stuck in a trap when an eruption happens," he said.

The good news, said Pereira, is that he hasn't seen any pets with injured feet from the hot lava.

Michelle Broder Van Dyke / BuzzFeed News

On Tuesday's mission to retrieve pets from Leilani Estates, Hawaii Island Humane Society control officer Justin Crusat said they brought out a couple of pit bulls, a shar-pei mix, and a Catahoula leopard dog. One of the pit bulls looked shocked, but also a little relieved, as he was pulled from a kennel and into the humane society's intake area, where he was promptly weighed and photographed.

But Crusat said now that evacuees have been allowed to go back into Leilani Estates, most of the animals have already been retrieved and on this mission they encountered vigilantes who were driving around the streets too to collect animals.

They might mean well, Crusat said, but it was a "little misguided" and illegal — since they're technically stealing the pets from people's properties. He said it also makes it harder for the humane society to reunite them with owners, since they don't know what property the dogs came from.

For the animals the humane society isn't able to immediately reunite with their owners, either because they haven't been reported yet or they don't have a microchip, they will be held indefinitely until their owners claim them.

"We usually do four to ten days with pets," Pereira said, but "there's no hold period for pets found at Leilani Estates."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.