For some residents of southern Texas, Hurricane Ike meant losing everything they owned. And when you lose your house, your car and maybe even members of your family, any connection with the comfortable past is welcome. One important emotional link that provided comfort for many of those who suffered from Ike was the successful rescue and sheltering of their pets.
Mary Cajiuno holds a rescued puppy outside of a Red Cross shelter in Houston, Texas. Talia Frenkel/American Red Cross
Meera Nandlal, Public Relations Manager for the Houston SPCA, says the organization has reunited 80 animals with their owners and arranged for more than 300 foster homes for unclaimed animals in the two weeks following Ike. One Galveston, Texas couple who were finally able to pick up their dogs said they didn’t think the storm would be so bad and they never imagined they would be away from home, and their pets, for so long. Luckily, a friend was able to go to their severely damaged home, found the dogs still there, and arranged for the SPCA to pick them up and care for them while the displaced couple looked for a new home.
The American Red Cross understands the importance of pets to their owners. The Red Cross and the Houston Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care (BARC) worked together to keep pets and their owners together, whenever possible, despite the disruption of a major storm.
Part of the City of Houston’s evacuation plans include a program where pets can be housed adjacent to the people shelters where their owners are staying. When a shelter for people opened at the George R. Brown Convention Center, BARC also opened up a pet shelter on the grounds so residents could be with their pets and not have to leave them behind. The pets aren’t allowed inside the people shelter, due to health concerns, but having the pets close by is very comforting for the owners.
Immediately following the hurricane, there were some 28 pets housed next to the 900 people in the human shelter. But BARC was ready for even more. “We can expand the space for a large influx, over 100 if needed,” said Vincent Medley, Acting Director of BARC. Among the pets being sheltered were dogs, cats and even one pet rat. Extra piles of sod were also brought in for the pets to “do their business.”
Providing emergency housing for pets requires almost as many resources as providing shelter for people. BARC provides trained staff to oversee the animal shelter day and night. The Houston SPCA provides pet food and animal crates. But the pet owners are responsible for feeding and caring for the animals. Medley says, “It gives people normalcy with the situation that they’re in. One shelter resident had two dogs, that was all he had left in the world and he pretty much stayed with them all the time. Another resident, a woman, had four dogs there, and she volunteered to help others with their pets.”
Medley said the reaction from Houston residents to the work of BARC has been extremely positive and he looks forward to deepening the organization’s cooperative relationship with the Red Cross. “Some things we knew about, some things were done on the fly. I think we’re at the beginning of something that will grow even bigger and better.”
Awareness of the importance of caring for pets in the aftermath of a disaster grew following Hurricane Katrina. It was after Katrina that the county in which Houston resides, Harris County, formed the Disaster Animal Task Force, and as part of that process, worked with the Red Cross.
That planning enabled BARC and the Red Cross to alert residents about the available animal services before Hurricane Ike hit. Television, radio stations and web sites provided residents with timely information on which shelters would have facilities for animals. Specially equipped BARC vans were used when animals needed to be transported along with their owners. The vans followed the pet owners to a shelter, making sure the family and their pets stayed together.
All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. You can help the victims of thousands of disasters across the country each year, disasters like the Hurricanes of 2008, by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, counseling and other assistance to victims of disaster. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster please do so at the time of your donation. Call 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P. O. Box 37243, Washington, DC20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.