double tap picture to expand gallery
Yes, Hurricane Harvey was a catastrophe. The historic storm dumped trillions of gallons of water on Texas last summer, destroying homes and disrupting thousands of human and animal lives.
But amid the chaos and destruction, people’s resilience came shining through, along with their compassion and willingness to cooperate. The storm forced pet owners in the Houston area and along the Gulf Coast to evacuate, but the animal welfare community responded by working together, setting up shelters and arranging transports. Donations poured in from a public moved to help.
“It really brought out the best in a lot of groups,” says Bethany Colonnese, live-release manager for San Antonio Animal Care Services. The city wasn’t in Harvey’s direct path, but the agency set up a shelter for owned pets evacuated from the hard-hit coastal region. The disaster prompted teamwork, with smaller municipalities along the coast forging relationships with bigger organizations. “I know we made a lot of new friends,” Colonnese says.
The Dallas-based SPCA of Texas established a shelter and medical facility for evacuee pets in a vacant parking garage—just down the street from a “mega-shelter” for people at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center—and Hunt Oil Company pitched in to build a temporary dog park to give the pets some normalcy, says SPCA vice president of animal welfare Karen Froehlich.
“It stretches you,” Froehlich says of responding to the storm, but the SPCA was still able to continue all of its regular programs. While the Harvey response left staff and volunteers exhausted, she adds, it also pushed every part of the organization to collaborate and proved to be a valuable learning experience.
Funding from the Alex & Elisabeth Lewyt Charitable Trust enabled The HSUS to partner with Emancipet (a nonprofit network of low-cost spay/neuter and veterinary care clinics) to offer three months of veterinary services for free. “We wanted to be a lifeline to those Houstonians that need help,” says Katie Jarl, HSUS Southwest regional director, noting that the Emancipet clinic was soon booked solid even with extended operating hours.
Pet owners “really had to go through hell and high water to save their lives and the lives of their animals. It certainly was no small thing,” Jarl says. “But what I will say is that Texas is known for its community,” and it was heartening to see law enforcement, first responders and animal groups step up to help.
She adds: “We get asked a lot, ‘Why animals? In all of this, why do you focus on animals—why not people?’ And my response all the time is, ‘Helping animals is helping people.’”