By Vicky Brown, American Red Cross

HOUSTON, Texas – At a time when the American Red Cross shelter at George Brown Convention Center was housing hundreds of evacuees from Hurricane Harvey, three of the smallest guests were Tabby, Sockers and Choo Choo.

The animals curled quietly in cages beside their owners, Anne and Allen Garrett, among the clutter of cots, blankets and personal belongings.

Smallest Shelter Guests
Anne Garrett brought her pets Sockers and Choo Choo to the George Brown American Red Cross Shelter in Houston, Texas. (Red Cross photo credit: Vicky Brown)

Choo Choo also got to ride along with Anne in her wheelchair to help comfort “her person.”

The pets were sharing the shelter with 25 other dogs, cats and one guinea pig, all housed in individual cages.

The Red Cross has a partnership with the Bureau of Animal Regulations and Care (BARC), and Houston Animal Control to provide services at evacuation shelters for pets.  This includes food, water, toys, cat litter and donated cages.  Veterinarians provide free care when possible.

Recently, Olivia Olson was manning the pet check-in table at the shelter, cuddling an abandoned five-week-old Cheweenie puppy.  She volunteers at BARC and works for Houston Animal Control.

“People will not evacuate if they cannot bring their pets with them,” Olivia said.  “We have to make sure the animals are also safe.”

During and immediately after the storm, she and nine other volunteers operated the BARC shelter around the clock.  It was surrounded by water and only accessible by oversized vehicles.  Fortunately, with more than 400 animals housed inside, the shelter did not take on water.  The volunteers worked tirelessly for four days until regular employees and volunteers could relieve them.

Olson’s love and care for animals was very apparent with the enthusiastic attention she was giving the puppy, which peeked out from under her sweatshirt. Olivia lives at Ranch Critters, a rescue ranch in Hempstead, Texas, for homeless horses, goats, pigs and dogs, so she is an expert in sheltering animals.