After Hurricane Harvey battered Texas and Louisiana, residents are rushing to recover yet facing catastrophic rain, flooding and evacuations. While many residents headed for safety with their pets in tow, plenty of animals either escaped or were left behind. Animal rescue and shelter administrators say it's still too early to estimate how many animals are struggling to find their way home.
Shelters in nearby areas unaffected by the storm took in animals from evacuated facilities. The Humane Society of North Texas, for example, made room for 22 animals from a shelter in Corpus Christi shelter that had to shut down.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has a disaster response team on the ground offering search and rescue, sheltering and relocation services for animals displaced by the storm.
The ASPCA reports, "Emergency response agencies are receiving a high number of requests for animal-related rescue, and are conducting responsible assessments to determine where resources can be utilized most effectively. The ASPCA stands ready to assist where our resources can have the most impact in saving lives and helping to reunite pets with their families. Residents who need assistance with recovering a pet from their home or emergency sheltering for their pets are encouraged to contact their local emergency management agency."
With so much of the storm's impact in the Houston area, the Houston SPCA has become a central hub for animal-related needs. Because the storm is still pounding, the SPCA is unsure how strong its impact will be on the area pet population, but the group is fielding offers from individuals and rescue groups willing to donate or transport and foster displaced animals. While needs are still being assessed, one way to help is through direct donations.
How to help animals in any emergency
Two pups rest after being rescued in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. (Photo: Austin Pets Alive!)
After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, an estimated 15,000 pets were rescued by the New Orleans SPCA, as volunteers scooped cats and dogs off rooftops, out of the water and from flooded streets, reports CNN. However, a whopping 90,000 area pets were never accounted for with some sources saying an estimated 600,000 dogs and cats were displaced or died as a result of the storm.
As animal lovers all over the country saw images of abandoned pets, they wanted to help. People sent money and rescue groups transported unclaimed pets to shelters and new homes. Those are some of the things you can do to help when disaster strikes.
Donate money. Teams from the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States head to areas after disasters to help with transport, rescue and other needs. Donate to them directly, or go online to find shelters directly impacted by the event.
Contact local shelters to see what they need. Some might want local volunteers or item donations, while others may prefer monetary aid. Rescue groups outside the area can contact individual shelters or other local rescue groups to see if there are pets ready to be taken to new homes. Early on, there will likely be temporary shelters set up in hopes that some animals may be claimed by their owners, so rescue groups might not be needed right away.
Be willing to foster. After large disasters, shelters brace for a high volume of new animals. Some shelters might be looking for short-term fosters to care for the animals that were already in their care before the storm hit or to take care of owned pets while the families recover from damage and get back on their feet.
How to protect your pet
Looking ahead, there are things you can to do be prepared with your pet before disaster strikes, says the ASPCA:
- Microchip your pets. Collars and tags can get lost, but it's easier for rescue workers to help pets reunite with their owners if they are chipped and the information is updated.
- Have a go-bag for your pet. Have it packed with leashes, medical info, food, water and anything else your pet needs and keep it by the door.
- Download the ASPCA’s free mobile app for your smartphone. It stores your pet’s records and offers tips on what to do if you get separated from your pet.
- If you have to evacuate, take your pet with you. Some emergency shelters allow pets. In 2006, Congress passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, which authorized FEMA to rescue, care, shelter and take care of people with pets and service animals. About 44 percent of the people who didn't evacuate during Katrina stayed because they didn't want to leave their pets behind, according to a report by the Fritz Institute.