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Weathering the storms, part III

The heart of Texas

From Animal Sheltering magazine Spring 2018

Armed with safety equipment, supplies and experience, members of the HSUS Animal Rescue Team wade into Texas floodwaters to rescue animals stranded by the storm.As floodwaters rose in Beaumont, Texas, Marley the cat got trapped in a mobile home, his head stuck in an overstuffed chair. HSUS responders and Beaumont Animal Services manager Matthew Fortenberry rescued Marley and turned him over to family friends at a nearby gas station.

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.’”

Read Weathering the storms: A wing and a prayer, and many helping hands

Read Going the distance for pets in Puerto Rico

Read Learning Andrew’s lessons in Florida

About the Author

James Hettinger is the assistant editorial director for Animal Sheltering magazine at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). He's responsible for editing copy and managing the production of the award-winning quarterly publication aimed at shelter and rescue personnel. Prior to joining The HSUS in 2008, James worked for several local newspapers and trade associations in the Washington, D.C., area. He shares his home with three cats: Edgar, Dana and Vinny.