Photos and story by Chris Genin, American Red Cross Volunteer
Among all the chaos brought by a natural disaster, keeping track of pets can be challenging and their lives, too, are turned upside-down. Displaced in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, many dogs and cats were left without homes or lost their owners.
During the relief effort many shelters opened to help the people affected by a disaster; their pets were accommodated in a pet shelter as close by as possible.
Pet shelters are still open for pets and their humans who are staying in two remaining Red Cross shelters in Houston. In the air conditioned pet shelter adjacent to the Greenspoint Mall shelter, wagging tails and furry faces prevail.
This sanctuary provides animals a quiet place to relax while they wait to transition with their owners. Shelter volunteers who may miss their own pets at home are known to come in to cuddle a four-legged friend as well.
The shelter hosts about 20 pets comfortably and took in some orphan animals. One friendly kitten was adopted by Amy, a Red Cross worker, after becoming the mascot for the Greenspoint shelter. This little survivor, appropriately named Harvey, traveled to his new home in Illinois.
Not every animal has been as lucky as Harvey and a large number of missing, displaced and stray dogs and cats have been taken in by Best Friends Animal Society, a national animal welfare organization headquartered in Kanab, Utah. Best Friends runs the nation’s largest no-kill companion animal sanctuary and has centers across the country.
The organization arrived in Houston shorty after Hurricane Harvey made landfall and now operates a temporary shelter in NRG Park.
Best Friends has helped more than 1,600 animals in more than 40 days on the ground in Houston. Some animals have been reunited with their owners while others have found new homes across the U.S. through the Best Friends more than 2,000 network partners. While new families have adopted many of the cats from the temporary shelter, approximately 300 dogs are still being cared for.
The shelter, while run by Best Friends employees from around the country couldn’t operate without the unbelievable support of volunteers, many local and some who have traveled in from across the U.S. and Canada.
“We have the most generous, most devoted supporters,” said Barbara Williamson, media relations manager, Best Friends Animal Society. “They’re passionate about animals and they make all this possible.”
The animals at the NRG shelter receive compassionate care. Dogs are fed and walked twice a day. Between activities, they are microchipped, bathed and groomed, and given veterinary care.
Ken Rodriguez, a dog care giver from Los Angeles, found that “despite everything these dogs have been through, I haven’t encountered one that is unfriendly.
“They’re all really sweet and well-mannered. There have been many dogs that were trained so well prior to sheltering that we could tell they were clearly somebody’s pet.”
Some dogs appear to have been have been strays so volunteers work on leash manners and socialization with these animals.
Best Friends posted fliers at churches, community centers and shelters with pictures on them so owners and their pets may be reunited. As days pass since the storm, the focus is to place every dog into a foster or permanent home and to find every pet a family.
Of the 180 cats that were originally in the shelter, less than 30 remain. Some have been transported to New Mexico and Colorado for adoption.
Volunteers feed the cats wet food twice a day and make sure they have dry food at all times. The cats have canopies in their crates and toys to play with. They even have a special enrichment room where volunteers or visitors can play, cuddle and socialize with the cats.
If you want to help Hurricane Harvey’s displaced animals, please visit bestfriends.org/hurricaneharvey. If you’re not in a position to foster or adopt a pet, you can donate items to the shelter through the organization’s Amazon wish list.
Located at NRG Park, exhibit hall D, the Best Friends shelter is generally open daily from 10 am-7 pm seven days a week (please check before visiting on Houston Texans home game days).
For more information on the American Red Cross’s Pet First Aid mobile app or to learn how to prepare your family’s pets for an emergency, visit redcross.org.