What are the known facts about Hurricane Harvey? Harvey dumped 11 trillion gallons of rain on Houston, a city of 2.3 million people. At least 31 people died and 100,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. What don’t we know? How many cats and dogs were displaced or died as a result of the storm. During Hurricane Katrina that number is estimated to have been 250,000, so that would give us an idea of the magnitude in Houston, which is 5 times the population of New Orleans.
There were, and still are many boots on the ground organizations, big and small that are doing incredible work there. I was asked by one to help ensure that cats got the help they needed as much of the rescue efforts were focused on dogs. I got on a plane. I was happy to help. What I saw when I got there was destruction and devastation. It was heartbreaking.
I was told by many that there are over 1.5 million stray dogs in the Houston area alone. If you add that to the number of pets left behind by their owners, that would be easily over 2 million animals in need of rescue. I saw many of these dogs, tattered and torn. They were tired too. While cats can fend for themselves much better, what wasn’t being realized is that many of these cats’ homes and caretakers were gone. And some gone forever. Many of the cats coming in were injured along with being hungry and tired. We saw apartment building after apartment building flooded and abandoned. We knew those were homes to many cats and dogs. Where were they all?
I brought one of my partners in crime, Yvonne LeGrice, who is our board chair and is an incredible and intuitive cat handler. I could not have done what I did without her. We helped with transport of cats out of the municipal shelter into the new staging area for Austin Pets Alive so that shelter would have room for the huge influx they were getting daily. These cats would go on transport for a life saving outcome at another location. Another day, I gathered some volunteers and we filled our trucks with cat carriers and traveled to Beaumont, Tx to help an 82 year old woman who had reached out for help. Her house had been flooded, the mold was growing and FEMA was coming to condemn her house the next day. She had 54 cats and 5 dogs. We got them all to safety.
The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey is still being felt and will be for possibly years to come. As much as Hurricane Katrina was a wake up call that animals had no infrastructure in a natural disaster, Hurricane Harvey showed us how far we’ve come in helping people and their animals after a disaster. However, it also showed us how much further we have to go to prepare for disasters for ourselves and our pets.
When it comes to our pets, what are the 3 most important steps we need to take to prepare for a disaster? First, have a plan for you and your pets. How will you transport them? Where will you evacuate to? Second, make sure your pets are microchipped and have tags. The vast numbers of pets in many different rescue locations makes it difficult to reunite owners and pets. If they are microchipped, rescuers can find you. Lastly, and most importantly, DO NOT LEAVE YOUR PETS BEHIND. If you have to leave, they have to leave too. They are more helpless than you. Do whatever it takes to take them with you.
Christi’s story from Houston