Hurricane Harvey has devastated Rockport, Houston and other Texas towns.
As the human rescue effort continues, thousands of shelter animals, strays and pets are in need of aide. Animal welfare groups all over Texas and the country have united to coordinate a massive animal rescue effort in response to Hurricane Harvey.
For local rescues like Austin Pets Alive! (APA!), the response to Harvey began before the storm made landfall.
Swift Planning and Response
“APA! efforts started last Thursday, once we saw Harvey was on the path to hit Texas,” says Lindsey Picard, APA!’s marketing manager. “We started reaching out to coastal shelters to see if we could evacuate their pets. We started transporting their pets to Austin. [By Wednesday], we had brought in over 600 animals.”
Like other shelters in Texas, including Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter, APA! made space for Harvey animal evacuees by calling on fosters to take in animals that were already in its care. A mix of volunteers and staff from various shelters have worked together to transport animals from coastal and Houston shelters to safety.
“We are following protocols about municipal shelters and strays to make sure we are doing everything we can to reunite pets with their families,” Picard says. “Families need to know where to find their pets, and it’s an all-hands-on-deck approach to work within those guidelines but also [to] get as many animals to safety as fast as possible.”
As APA! and other local organizations work to evacuate animals from shelters and provide resources to families looking for their pets, national groups such as Best Friends Animal Society, The Humane Society of the United States, Code 3 and International Fund for Animal Welfare rushed to Texas to spearhead animal search-and-rescue missions, establish emergency shelters and deliver supplies to local shelters.
Animal search-and-rescuers such as John Garcia and Meg Burke from Best Friends are a certified Type 1 rescue team, meaning they are qualified to accompany human search-and-rescue teams and handle animal needs that arise.
“We don’t know the full scope of the disaster at this time. The anticipation is thousands of animals will be displaced by the hurricane,” says Barbara Williamson, media relations manager for Best Friends. “As soon as we heard the hurricane was coming, we started contacting our network partners along the coast to see what they need with regards to supplies, sheltering and transport.”
Williamson says the most helpful thing anyone in the country can do right now is go to their local shelter and foster or adopt a pet. This will have the ripple effect of opening up more space in that shelter — in fact, shelters as far as New Jersey have opened their doors for displaced Texas pets.
“Even though the storm is moving out now, water can be incredibly dangerous,” Williamson says. “You have to anticipate that rescue is something you want to do before a disaster hits and get training. It’s incredibly exhausting and taxing to work in the water. But there are a lot of other ways people can help right now.”
Williamson said Best Friends has activated its disaster relief fund, which will be used exclusively to help animals affected by Harvey. Best Friends also compiled a list of animal shelters and rescue groups in need of aide that people can donate to directly.
“I always personally think cash donations are the best way to help because groups can buy whatever they need,” Williamson says. “But there is something emotionally satisfying about knowing you donated medical supplies or dog food. So you can also look at Facebook pages and Amazon Wish Lists to see what the specific needs are for shelters and know your donation is helping.”
Best Friends is partnering with VetPlusMore to help reunite families with their pets.
“APA! is going to be continuing to help with these missions as long as needed,” Picard says. “This effort isn’t going to be over next week or next month. We are going to continue to care for these animals until they find their families or their forever homes.”
Williamson said a disaster like Harvey creates a mission that’s bigger than any 1 organization. It’s inspiring to see how people come together to help animals and people during times like this, she adds.
“We would not be able to accomplish what we are accomplishing without the rescue community coming together,” says Picard. “We are working closely with Best Friends and other organizations. It’s a huge effort and it’s really inspiring. We’ve had amazing support and donations from animal lovers all over the country and even all over the world.”