After Hurricane Harvey the Harris County Animal Shelter* gave respite to nearly 1,000 displaced animals and even lengthened the stray hold window to 30 days so that owners would have a better chance of being reunited with their pets.
But those were the lucky ones.
"Unfortunately we’ve heard a variety of stories coming out of Houston. People who left their dogs at home and thought that perhaps they would be safe there and that they would be able to return to retrieve them. Of course they weren’t," says Laura Donahue Halloran, executive director of Texas Humane Legislation Network.
"We talked to a number of citizens who were helping with cleanup and debris and found dogs who had clearly drowned at the end of chains. Chains don’t float."
Halloran says that even if there are enough links in a tether for an animal to get to higher ground, their bodies can't sustain swimming for any length of time with a chain weighing them down.
She labels leaving a dog tied up during inclement weather a "death sentence."
Life is full of woulda, shoulda, couldas. The flood insurance we should have purchased, the road we could have taken, the decision we would have made if we only knew what the future would hold. But here we're being given an opportunity to learn from some very tragic circumstances and take steps now to keep dogs and cats safe during the next tropical storm or hurricane:
Texas Humane Legislation Network recommends:
1. Making sure your pet(s) wear collars and tags with up-to-date contact information and other identification.
2. Microchipping your pet(s) — or updating information if you have moved or changed phone numbers since they were microchipped — is one of the best ways to ensure that you and your pet are reunited if you are separated. Always be sure to register the microchip with the manufacturer and keep your contact information up to date with the microchip company.
3. Get a portable pet carrier or crate, and help your dog or cat get comfortable in it.
4. Know where you will go, how you will get there, and if your pet will be able to go with you.
5. Prepare a small travel bag with essentials, including food for several days and any medications and an extra leash.
"Dogs and cats are defined as companion animals for a reason. They really are dependent on us. The very least we can do is provide them with food, water and shelter," says Halloran. "The [Houston] images were very hard for folks to see and some became viral and made their rounds on the internet: dogs tethered to the tree in the pouring rain without shelter.
"Take your animal. If you have to evacuate your home please take your dog with you," says Halloran. "Your locality should have a plan in place. The onus is not on citizens. The government has the responsibility."
We did follow up with Michael A. White, D.V.M., M.S., the division director for Veterinary Public Health*, to ask how residents can find out where pets will be accepted.
"The answer is complicated. American Red Cross (ARC) shelters are supposed to accept pets but that may not always be the case depending on where the shelter is set up. Not all facilities used by the ARC will allow animals in the facility and the pets may have to be housed outside or at another location. Also, the ARC does not always have animal holding supplies. Owners should bring the supplies they need with them. For those that don’t, the ARC tries to engage local animal welfare organizations or agencies to provide animal sheltering support," writes Dr. White.
"Also not all transports are set up for, or will allow, animals in their transport vehicles. It is best for pet owners to plan ahead for where they will go that will accept pets and have a 'go bag' ready with their pet supplies," adds White.
Companion animals weren't always a priority during disaster situations but a Texas law passed in 2007 requires the Division of Emergency Management to “assist political subdivisions in developing plans for the humane evacuation, transport, and temporary sheltering of service animals and household pets in a disaster.” It's titled HB-88 (Simba's Law) and the THLN wants to make all 254 counties in Texas accountable for having those plans in place.
*The Harris County Animal Shelter is part of Veterinary Public Health (VPH), a Division of Harris County Public Health. VPH provides shelter, care and adoptions for homeless pets, animal control in neighborhoods, zoonotic disease surveillance, and education on responsible pet ownership.
Animals also need our help during extreme temperatures:
And if you see a dog suffering during freezing weather or triple digit heat, don't look the other way. Adequate shelter is only mandated during inclement weather but THLN is trying to enact legislation to change that. It's fast and easy to sign up at thln.org/petition.
"My heart breaks for the dogs that I know right now are dehydrated on the ground, looking for shade. Their chain might be balled up in a knot and they can’t reach their doghouse. Every day is a fight for them," says Halloran.
Every jurisdiction in Texas defines "adequate shelter" differently, so law enforcement might not be able to intervene on an animal's behalf. But if you see an animal suffering please at least try.
Animal control falls under different jurisdictions in each locality. "If you don't know if it's the police, sheriff or the local shelter then call the police station and say you want to report an animal in distress and they can give the contact information," says Halloran.
Resources and links:
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For information about Harris County Public Health, which oversees the Harris County Animal Shelter, reach their call center at 281-999-3191 or visit countypets.com.
For information about BARC, the City of Houston’s Animal Shelter and Adoption Facility, call 311 or visit houstonbarc.com.
To reach the City of Houston's Office of Emergency Management call 713-884-4500 or visit houstonoem.org.