A horse and a pig crossed the street and passed through Margaret Gamble’s yard. What sounds like the beginning of a joke is another issue that the people of Port Arthur, TX had to deal with after Hurricane Harvey.
Not just people but animals lost their homes, families, and lives during this disaster. Monica Lee, development director for the Humane Society of Southeast Texas (HSSET), saw a slew of animals walk through her doors.
When Harvey headed for the coast, HSSET executed a plan to ensure that every animal that came to them was kept dry, warm, and safe.
Volunteers with the Cajun Navy brought pets in that they rescued, HSSET volunteers searched homes and pulled animals to safety, and animal control and the Texas Department of Emergency Management took action, as well as non-profits like Pups in Peril. Petco even chipped in a $10,000 grant to make sure there were shelters for the wayward animals throughout the city.
Some families in Dallas and Houston haven’t made it back home to their pets, so the shelters are hosting animals for extended stays. The mayor of Port Arthur, Derrick Freeman, would love to get commercials made to get those in other cities and states to come adopt the animals left behind. So far, there are rescues in Tennessee, Kentucky, Dallas, Massachusetts, and California.
HSSET had to send 77 of their dogs and 42 of their cats to Tennessee with one of their rescue partners to make room in their shelter for a large number of animals displaced. They ended up taking over the staging efforts in Orange, Texas, pulling over 100 animals into their care. They saved more than 500 animals over the course of the hurricane, 223 of which have already found homes.
Flood waters carry debris and potentially diseases that are affecting these animals. There is a high risk of parvo and influenza, and animals have been brought in with a variety of problems.
“One dog, in particular, Bonnie, had been hit with a floating ant pile,” said Lee. “When ants are overtaken by water, they will attach themselves to whatever they can find – and they found Bonnie. She was covered from head to toe in tiny little burning bites.”
Hamlet, a Great Pyrenees, received a severe sunburn on his face from being outside for so long during the storm. Sunburn is especially prominent in white dogs, such as Hamlet.
A black-and-white cat named Liam developed MRSA and was found stranded on top of a house with a boil on his back. He has been there since Sept. 7 and received lots of love from those visiting.
While she is a little skittish around people, Bonnie is now doing just fine at the shelter, and Hamlet and Liam are lovable as ever. Despite the medical issues many animals came in with, there were only six casualties at HSSET, thanks to their successful treatment efforts.
“Some animals were pulled from houses, others were rescued off rooftops, but each was provided the TLC and medical attention needed to make a swift recovery,” said Lee.
Lee told the story of one brave volunteer, Foss Bean, and a shepherd mix. This dog was one of the 30-plus pets that Bean rescued in a span of three days. When he pulled her from the water, he found that she was pregnant. Puppies that were supposed to be due in the next few weeks arrived less than 24 hours later after a rush to the veterinarian for an emergency c-section.
“The stress from Harvey and her abandonment had caused her to go into premature labor,” said Lee. “She welcomed eight beautiful puppies – five of which have already found their forever home!”
Every pet that they took in was provided with a full set of vaccinations, a microchip and the option of spay or neuter when reunited with his or her family. Some pets were reunited with their families, but while animals were on hold for a minimum of 30 days as Lee and her crew searched for their families, some families struggled with the decision to give up their pets to the humane society.
“These were some of the most heartbreaking moments,” said Lee. “We did our best to help them through the decision. In fact, the ferret we had rescued, Sir Frederick Weaselton III, became known as our therapy ferret. When families were signing over their pets, we handed them Freddy to cuddle and sniffle into. It seemed to help them a bit, but nothing could help them through this situation.”
Luckily, not everyone lost or had to give up their pets. Valory Long drove to Texas from Kentucky with her four dogs for a job. The hurricane hit as she was driving. She had a duplex rented for two years. The duplex didn’t flood, but when she arrived in Texas, the landlord told Long her sister’s house had flooded, and she was going to give that home to her instead.
Long had friends in the area and ended up living in a small camper with three other adults, their two dogs, and her four dogs.
She said, as she held onto her dog, Teddy Bear, that it was difficult, but she couldn’t even imagine what it would be like if she had lost her dogs, one of which she’s had for 17 years.
“I’m a big-time animal lover,” said Long. “I heard of so many people who lost their animals, and it just breaks my heart. I can feel bad for myself, but I’m just lucky I have my dogs.”
It’s easy to focus on family pets when people’s homes are being destroyed, and they are being sent elsewhere. However, it wasn’t just cats and dogs that were displaced by Hurricane Harvey.
“Not only were dogs and cats being rescued but a mule, a ferret, a snake, mice, a duck, and even an armadillo,” said Lee.
Port Arthur is in a rural area with open spaces and farmland on the outskirts. Mayor Freeman began to receive some criticism. For a while, after the hurricane, there was no big animal pick up. Horses, sheep, cows, and dogs had drowned. Several dead horses littered the land, and cows were pushed up against fences by the water.
“It got to smelling really bad,” said Mayor Freeman. “You can imagine driving in the 100-degree weather we have here in Southeast Texas.”
Creatures besides mammals also made their presence in Port Arthur. When the water level rose, there were snakes, spiders, and alligators that appeared. Even Mayor Freeman’s home was flooded, with thousands of spiders layered on the water.
Gamble, who had seen the horse and pig walk through her yard, said it was the snakes that got her attention. Traveling on the highway, snakes were flipping their heads up right in front of her on the street.
“I had heard that when people got back in their homes, they opened their drawers and snakes were in the drawers,” said Gamble.
This issue is complex, and the people of Port Arthur and Southeast Texas need more specialists’ attention for all the animals in need. Mayor Freeman has gotten the farm animals taken away and has set up a system to have the rest of the animals be identified, adopted, and taken care of.
With the tremendous effort put forth by Mayor Freeman, Lee and her crew at HSSET, and the numerous volunteers, the displaced animals affected by the hurricane are cared for, safe, and finding homes.