Hurricane Harvey Animal Rescue Shelter helps reunite pets with owners

2017-09-16 22:42:05 GMT2017-09-17 06:42:05(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

HOUSTON, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- When floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey began to inundate entire communities in the Houston area, Tara Cantieri surveyed her four-legged household that includes 11 dogs and cats.

If the waters rose much higher in her League City neighborhood, she would have to try to find a way to evacuate her dog and five cats, along with five kittens that she was fostering. She gathered up about a dozen bags to carry her pets out in if she needed to evacuate.

Cantieri was fortunate as the floodwaters didn't reach inside her home. But other Houston-area residents weren't so lucky. Many people escaped from their flooded homes with just a few belongings, and had to leave their pets behind.

The reason, they soon discovered, was that rescuers who arrived in boats to evacuate them would not allow animal cargo aboard. Losing a pet, Cantieri said, is beyond traumatic.

"Pets, to me, are family," said Cantieri, a clinical pharmacist who volunteers with the nonprofit Friendswood Animal Advocates, which supports rescue groups through donations, volunteering and fostering. "They are like your child. You have a connection with your pet, you love your pet and your pet shows you the love back."

"It's like leaving your child behind," she said. "If someone would say, 'You have to leave them (pets) behind,' then I would stay."

Hurricane Harvey caused many pets to be lost, left homeless, abandoned by families, or temporarily left for emergency housing with the three shelters in Galveston area - Bayou Animal Services, the League City Animal Shelter, and the Galveston Island Humane Society.

Meanwhile, the three shelters have combined efforts to open the Hurricane Harvey Animal Rescue Shelter at a former greyhound racing track in La Marque, about 40 miles south of Houston.

Teaming up to create a single location helps to accommodate animals and to assist with rehoming and care, a shelter official said.

"The Galveston Island Humane Society (GIHS) was very fortunate to have not received any damage due to the storm, and Galveston Island received little damage and most of it did not adversely affect our pets," said Caroline D. Pate, GIHS executive director. "We felt it was our opportunity to step forward and assist our fellow shelters in their time of need."

The Hurricane Harvey Animal Rescue Shelter houses about 90 dogs, along with 40 cats that will be transferred from another shelter, said shelter coordinator Casey Miller.

"We've all worked together to have a central location for everyone to come back and find their pets, so they're not traveling from shelter to shelter, especially with limited resources - not having gas and vehicles being damaged or ruined," she said. "We want to make it easy as we can to reunite the dogs and cats with their owners."

The animals arrived at the shelter in the days after the storm, and most endured the trauma of the high winds and floodwaters that came up fast, forcing their owners to flee to the safety of higher ground.

"They were either found or rescued by the different animal rescue groups that went in during the storm and picked them up from addresses," Miller said. "We also have owners who are coming in, realizing that they weren't expecting to have that much water in their homes."

The separation of the animals from their owners is traumatic for both the owners and pets.

"It is traumatic and we're seeing a lot of stressed animals," Miller said. "But we're doing the best we can to make it a home-like situation, considering the circumstances. Everyone's (animals) are getting showered with toys, love, treats and getting walked more than they would have in a normal shelter situation."

The good news is that the community has come forward to volunteer to help care for the animals, and many are donating food and other items for the pets. "We've had an outpouring of love and support from our volunteers," Miller said. "This could not happen without them, and we are incredibly grateful to them."

For Cantieri, the joy comes in seeing lost animals reunited with their frantic owners.

"I think all animals should have a loving home and should be loved," she said. "With as many animals as we have, it's kind of hard. When I see one reunited, it makes all the bad stories I've seen - the tears and pain - it makes it all worth it."

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