In a way, Noah had it easy. He only had to make sure that he had 2 of each species on his ark. Rescue groups in Texas and Florida, however, had to work tirelessly to save as many animals as possible in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. In fact, they’re still working.
The results have been phenomenal. In Houston, the George R. Brown (GRB) Center was set up as a “mega-shelter” for animals in need, thanks to Friends For Life. “We had hundreds of crates,” explains Megan Carpenter, the organization’s communications director. “Hundreds of pounds of food, everything down to treats. And families were able to get supplies for not only while they were at the GRB but also to take as they got back on their feet.”
Volunteer vets were also on hand, ready to update vaccinations. They came, Carpenter says, “from all over to help. We were inundated with offers to volunteer and provide veterinary help. Houston was amazing throughout the entire storm and long after.” And last, but certainly far from least, animals and resources were posted online so people would know where to find their pets when the flooding was over.
Funds and More
Alley Cat Allies, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Maryland, provided grants to Friends For Life and A Life to Live — a no-kill organization in Baytown, Texas, that was heavily involved in the rescue efforts — and other groups.
But Alley Cat Allies didn’t just provide funding. Its bilingual response team was helping in Texas and Louisiana after Harvey; 2 weeks later, they were in Florida, delivering supplies to the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast (HSTC), Operation CatSnip and Caring Fields Felines (CFF) in Palm City (CFF is a nonprofit group that provides 154 cats with “secured, free-roaming campgrounds” to live in).
Many of these groups began texting and messaging “almost immediately,” says Becky Robinson, Alley Cat Allies’ president and director. “We just have a deep, deep respect for the people in Texas, Louisiana and Florida. They’re not just salt-of-the-earth people; they’re problem solvers, they’re visionaries.”
And it was that thinking outside the box — or, as Friends For Life puts it, “thinking outside the shelter” – that led to so many animals being saved.
Back in 2005, when Katrina devastated New Orleans, thousands upon thousands of pets were abandoned. Many other people chose to stay with their companion animals — 44 percent, according to one 2006 poll — and many ended up dying with them.
The result was the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, which mandates that any state seeking assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) must address the needs of people and their pets during a natural disaster evacuation. The act passed in May 2006 by a whopping 349-to-29 margin and was signed into law by then-President George W. Bush the following October.
FEMA “put laws into place after Katrina that cities must accommodate animals during evacuations after the devastating loss of people who refused to leave their pets behind,” Carpenter remarks. “Harvey was the first time it was all put into play. As a nation, we’re very attached to our pets because they truly are our companions.” She’s especially glad that “Friends For Life was called for this tragedy…that an organization who strongly believes every life is worth saving was there. It wasn’t just a rescue effort. This is a marathon of recovery. We’re still feeling it, and we will for months to come.”
Some animals from Galveston have been transported as far as New York and Connecticut, according to David Owens, a reporter for the Hartford Courant. However, Friends For Life is not sending any animals out of state, says Carpenter, and she’s not aware of any other groups in the Houston area doing so.
“Everyone is experiencing an influx of animals,” she adds. “We are currently running at 4 times our capacity.” The organization is caring for more than 30 litters of kittens and puppies who won’t become adoptable until they are 8 weeks old and have been spayed/neutered.
Thirty-five of their cats also currently have ringworm. In a traditional shelter, kittens with ringworm would likely be killed because it can easily take months to fully recover. “It takes weeks and weeks of not just treating these kittens and cats but of also providing regular care and socialization to keep them hopeful and happy while waiting for their journey to a forever home to begin,” says Carpenter.
Watch these animal welfare organizations in action:
Saving the Ferals
And then there were the feral cats. They, too, were displaced by the flooding, and Jay Garrett, Jr., A Life to Live’s founder and executive director, has been working with a number of community cat caregivers since the hurricane.
One woman took in some friendly strays just before the storm and cared for them throughout its duration. Finally forced to relocate out of state, she was “very distraught” about having to surrender the cats to the local kill animal shelter. Thankfully, A Life to Live arranged foster care for them.
Another woman had been feeding a couple of cats at her trailer park; after the hurricane, 20–30 ferals showed up, and she contacted Garrett. “Some of these could have been truly feral cats that had been living in the woods along Cedar Bayou and that were displaced,” he speculates. “Others could have been strays living out in the trailer park, and [still] others could have been pets whose owners had to leave them behind due to high water evacuations.”
With help from Alley Cat Allies, Garrett and his group “took a full day and trapped as many as we could. We ended up walking away at the end of the day with 13 cats.” The cats were neutered, vaccinated and ear-tipped; they were also microchipped so that they could be tracked and brought to safety if turned into the local municipal animal control facility.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,” anthropologist Margaret Mead once wrote, “indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” The fact that so many people pitched in to rescue so many animals — that they didn’t just let those animals fend for themselves during the hurricanes — proves her more than right.