Wednesday, September 6, 2017

My Experience Helping Pets in Houston

One week ago, Hurricane Harvey slammed into the coast of Texas, flooding Houston, forcing many residents to evacuate their homes and I'm certain that many of you shared my heartbreak as social media sites were saturated with images of desperate animals left behind.  When Patrick and I decided to drive down to Texas to help, we set up a Gofundme page hoping to raise $250 for gas.  Incredibly, our amazing family, friends, and even strangers chipped in with supplies, restaurant gift cards, a hotel room stay, and just over $1,000!  We loaded up the car with cases of bottled water, animal crates, and blankets. Then, on Friday we left after work and drove for sixteen hours.
In just the few days between the storm and our journey, some of the water had receded, leaving piles of debris and severe damage.  Businesses with minimal damage reopened and major roads were cleared for travel.  A handful of neighborhoods were still flooded and, surprisingly, residents had no intention of leaving, even after the city declared that electricity would be turned off and rescue crews would no longer enter the area.
Many people opted not to return home until they felt safe.  Local hotels were packed, and rows of temporary housing lined the parking lot of the Astrodome.
Our destination was a pop-up animal shelter located in Houston.  
A fantastic animal rescue group called Houston Pets Alive opened this shelter in a bank building and coordinated volunteers, donations, and animal transportation.  
Just a few days before our arrival, the building and surrounding area were filled with four feet of dirty water.  As it receded, volunteers tore out the furniture and carpet, then sanitized and painted the space to prepare for incoming animals. 
Bank drive-thru window turned cleaning supply counter.
The make-shift shelter was set up to accommodate stray animals and pets surrendered by their owners.  
 Now - before you say, "How terrible that people would drop their pets off at a shelter and leave," please consider the situation.
In a crisis situation, many of us could leave our pets with a family member or friend, but not everyone has that luxury.  Imagine losing literally everything you own and discovering that your make-shift home won't allow pets.  The only way to ensure your furry friend's safety might be taking him to a shelter where he can find a new home.  The mission is to ensure that animals aren't abandoned or left to fend for themselves.
On a happy note, people lined up outside the shelter to fill out applications and take surrendered animals to new homes.  
Houston Pets Alive also took in lost animals when space was available, in hopes of reuniting them with their owners.  
For example, this terrified little kitten was running around outside until a kind couple caught her and brought her into the shelter.  Later in the day, she was adopted by one of the volunteers.
Across the parking lot, a flooded storefront was also cleared out to house incoming donations.  The carpeting was stripped, and pallets were set on the floor to stack bags of food, blankets, and all kinds of other items. 
As we helped donors unload supplies and organize them, cleaning crews removed the bottom portion of damaged, soggy drywall.  The space had no electricity or running water.  It was hot and didn't smell so great, but I honestly didn't mind. I was just happy that I could be there helping.
I was floored by how many people came to donate their time, money and supplies.  This gentleman gathered donations from his community in New Mexico and drove down to deliver a truck full of pet food, bowls, towels, and blankets.  
Local businesses also raised money and collected supplies.  Along with donations for the animals came cases of water and pizza for the volunteers, and even a local food truck set up in the parking lot to provide us with free iced coffee.
When we ran out of places to stack the donations, the local Toys R Us provided us with more pallets.
Both spaces quickly became hectic and crowded.
Volunteers ran back and forth between the shelter and donation center collecting crates, food bowls, and towels.  When someone suggested that a set of walkie talkies would be beneficial, Patrick called over a dozen stores (most were closed due to flooding) to find a good quality set and plenty of batteries.
We also used funds from the Gofundme page to buy other essential items for the shelter, such as kitten milk replacer (needed, but not often donated because it is expensive), bottles, dog brushes, laundry detergent, and small plastic pools.
The items donated to Houston Pets Alive go to a variety of places.  Any Houston resident in need is welcome to visit the donation center.  Pet owners and people who volunteer to foster animals have access as well as the animals currently housed in the shelter.
This lovely lady filled her truck with pet food from the donation center and delivered it to people with pets who had been displaced by the hurricane
Friday was our ten year wedding anniversary, and I can't imagine a better way to celebrate than to help animals in need.
We only had a few days in Texas, but the experience was incredible.  I met some unforgettable people (and animals), and although I had shed many tears and was practically delirious with lack of sleep, I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Although this looks like a ridiculous amount of pet food, it won't last long.  If you would like to contribute by donating supplies or money, or if you live in the Houston area and can volunteer your time, I high recommend helping out Houston Pets Alive.

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