This summer, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Marie and Nate hurled their way into the southern coasts one after another. For a single hurricane season, it was the greatest number of storms to make U.S. landfall in more than a decade.
Thousands of people were displaced, and many temporary housing facilities simply couldn’t accommodate the pets of storm refugees. Owners were faced with agonizing choices: leave pets home alone, find a temporary shelter, or stay put and weather the storm with their pets. As a result, many pets were inevitably separated from their owners. But what was done to help rescue these pets and bring them safely home? Plenty, as it turns out.
Making Room Before the Storm
Many shelters in the path of a hurricane got busy ASAP, transferring adoptable animals to other states to make room for storm victims’ pets. The goal was to keep these pets in temporary shelters close by, where their owners could find them easily. Transportation was provided by organizations like Wings of Rescue, a cadre of volunteer pilots who typically fly shelter animals to new locations to improve their odds of adoption. During Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the pilots flew 17 missions, bringing over 1,500 dogs and cats to safety. They also rescued more than 400 pets from Puerto Rico. None of these pets belonged to storm victims; these were pets up for adoption before the hurricanes happened.
Other organizations set up temporary pet shelters located near human housing. From all across the United States, help came from animal welfare organizations, companies in the pet industry and even private citizens, who mobilized and delivered donations of food, medicine, crates, blankets, litter and other pet supplies. The temporary shelters were ready and volunteers were on hand to help comfort stranded animals as they arrived.
After the Storm
Once the winds abated, owners who refused to leave home without their pets were eventually rescued with their dogs, cats and other pets in tow. And those who left their pets behind relied on first responders from the Humane Society of the United States and other organizations to help rescue stranded animals.
In an emotional slide show, the Washington Post captured photos of animals awaiting rescue, the dedicated people who waded through flooded streets and debris to bring animals to safety, and the owners who refused to leave without their furry family members.
Getting Pets Home
As you can imagine, ID tags and microchips were invaluable to reuniting animals and their owners. In other cases, owners could search for missing pets at makeshift facilities like the Pet Reunion Pavilion in Houston, which took in about 400 dogs and 100 displaced cats.
The internet and social media were also instrumental in helping owners track down their pets. FindMyLostPet.com, for example, provided lists of places people could search for their dog or cat in person or online. In Houston, hundreds of flyers were posted in an effort to reach those without internet access.
And all that work has paid off in joyful reunions, proof that even natural disasters can’t break the bonds between people and animals.