Nancy Lynch used to volunteer with the Red Cross, assisting families during natural disasters.
She remembers a storm in the late 1990s that flooded homes and displaced residents.
At a nearby shelter, she met a middle-age woman who kept pulling a blanket over her head. She later found that the woman had to leave her dog in the basement of her home and was afraid for its life. Luckily for the woman, a volunteer firefighter rescued the dog and returned it to her.
“After she had her pet back, she was a different person,” said Lynch, 67, of Locust Valley. “Since then, I decided that there should be some way of helping people with pets during disasters.”
In 2011, Lynch was inducted into the Long Island Volunteer Hall of Fame, which honored her work as founder and president of Pet Safe Coalition, a local nonprofit group that prepares people and their animals for safe evacuations during natural disasters or emergencies.
Last Saturday, her husband, Luke Lynch, 67, sponsored a bench that was installed at Bethpage State Park in Old Bethpage during a dedication ceremony to recognize her volunteer work.
“Some would say that the bench was the most expensive Valentine’s Day present he had ever given to me,” Nancy Lynch said. “It’s just wonderful to have this for the future of Pet Safe.”
Diana O’Neill, executive director of the Long Island Volunteer Center in Hempstead, coordinated the bench ceremony for Lynch.
“She has been integral in planning for community response to disasters and emergencies.” said O’Neill, 56, of Garden City, who is also co-founder of the Long Island Volunteer Hall of Fame. “They’ve proven their worth during the recent Tropical Storm Irene implication. Without it [Pet Safe Coalition], there would have been a void. Where would these pets have gone and would people who were told to evacuate have stayed in their homes and not gone to shelters?”
At the ceremony, the Long Island Volunteer Center took the opportunity to present Pet Safe Coalition vice president and executive director Beverly Poppel with the Presidential Volunteer Service Award, the most prestigious award given by the White House for volunteer service.
Poppel has worked with the coalition since 2005, putting together literature and press releases and helping Lynch coordinate efforts during emergencies such as Tropical Storm Irene and the recent Suffolk County wildfires.
Poppel said there’s really no model for creating an organization like this, but Lynch has handled it well.
“She has been convincing people that pets are worth it,” Poppel said of Lynch. “Anyone less dedicated would have thrown up their hands, but she has stayed with it through thick and thin. When you see someone make that kind of effort, it makes you stay the course yourself.”
To learn more, visit www.petsafecoalition.org.
Above: Locust Valley's Nancy Lynch sits on the bench dedicated to her for her work with Pet Safe Coalition. (May 23, 2012)