A Call for Help Answered by Houston SPCA
Article by Sherri L. Barclay, Barclays Arabians

How you can still help the Houston SPCA and the victims of Hurricane Katrina
A visit with Alice Sarmiento, Director of Development & Community Outreach, Houston SPCA

Imagine being left all alone while tragedy struck. Trying to find a way out as water rose around you. Not being able to call out for help or seek a safer shelter. Imagine waiting to hear someone coming to rescue you only never to hear them coming for some time, if ever?

We as humans have the capability to get to areas and try to signal for help if we are physically able. We have voices that call out for that help and arms that can be waved at passing helicopters and boats to flag them down. We even have the capacity to write on rooftops “Please Help” or SOS. What about the animals left behind? Locked in homes that no one is going to be coming home to for quite some time. Left with a few days food and water which is probably now floating down the street. Animals looking out the window or just waiting for signs of their owners coming home so they can wag their tails and excitedly wait for them to walk in the door. At the end of August 2005 an event happened like no other in US history. We watched in our homes as forecasters warned of the storm they had been talking about hitting the Gulf Coast since the 1980’s. A storm some people thought would weaken as others in the past and not be as bad as the “catastrophic” event forecasters were predicting. Some heeded warnings and left. Others stayed behind in their homes because they felt safe and some due to animals and or family they did not want to leave behind.

We watched in disbelief as levees that had previously protected New Orleans failed, buildings in Mississippi were flattened and lives all along the Gulf Coast were changed forever. Imagine not knowing where loved ones were and if they had survived. Friends and neighbors that stayed behind with no way to contact you and say they were OK. Animals left behind in hopes of the owners returning in a few days only to discover a few days would now be months. There were reports of animals left in travel crates on top of washers & dryers. Animals also were left in attics, basements, bathrooms and bedrooms to ride out what is now the costliest natural disaster in history.

245,000 refugees were welcomed into Texas by various agencies, bases, sports facilities, abandoned warehouses etc. There refugees can get a shower, hot food, water and a place to sleep while they try to get back to some form of normality in their lives. What about the animals however? Where do they turn? Enter the Humane Society and organizations like the Houston SPCA.

263 canine and feline animal refugees from the Louisiana SPCA began arriving as early as Sunday, August 28th at the Houston SPCA. The Houston SPCA immediately established an animal emergency hotline (713) 802-0555 for the owners of these pets. Then on Thursday, September 1st they accepted almost 400 additional animals from refugees at the Houston Astrodome and Reliant Arena. They anticipated at least another 300 pets that same night and more in the future. It was estimated that 1,000 animals could possibly call the Houston SPCA home due to the hurricane.

“We will continue to make space for the animals of our neighbors to the East,” said Houston SPCA President Patricia E. Mercer. The Houston SPCA is offering free temporary board, shelter, and care to the pets of people streaming out of those states hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. To make room for the anticipated flood of refugees, the Houston SPCA is working with its dedicated adoption partners throughout the area, state, and United States to place their own adoptable animals in other shelters.

Animals from cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, ferrets and even a chicken found refuge at the Houston SPCA. At the time this article was written no horses or large animals had arrived yet. The animals needs included shelter, food, water a place to stay and a few even required minor medical treatment. These animals were housed at the Houston SPCA instead of allowing some of them to go to foster homes. This was to keep all the animals in one central location for individuals to call and re-claim their pets.

People needing pet-related information were urged to call the Houston SPCA Hotline at 713-802-0555 from 9 am - 5 pm daily. Volunteers were standing by to take calls and assist pet owners. After hours, callers could leave a message and a volunteer would call them back first thing the following morning. The animals from the LASPCA were placed in Houston’s adoption program.

The owners of the owned animals that were smuggled onto busses headed for Texas in pockets, purses, backpacks, undergarments, and even garbage bags where then released for care to the Houston SPCA The Houston SPCA was standing by to accept all in need as they arrived. Animals continued to arrive at the two evacuation centers in Houston and the HSPCA is continuing to stand by on an on-call basis. These owners were asked to check in within 10 days. They extended housing to theses animals but had to hear from the owners in 10 days so they knew the animals had not been abandoned.

For those animals that were rescued and not “owned” by someone there are also procedures in place. These animals are first matched in a database of calls from individuals that are looking for their pets, which were left behind or lost in the chaos that followed. If there is a match found then the Houston SPCA re-unites them with their owners. If there is no match made by phone or database then they are put up for adoption.

Rescue efforts for animals left in their homes for shelter through the storm could not be immediately rescued. Due to the conditions surrounding the areas hardest hit were unsafe to enter right after the storm. Not being able to just go in and start the rescue process where animals were known to be was frustrating for their colleagues in Louisiana. However, on Saturday September 3rd, less than one week after Katrina hit, rescues were finally taking place all over the city.

Mercer and Assistant Chief Cruelty Investigator Charles Jantzen are on the ground in Louisiana. They are there to prepare for the anticipated arrival of hundreds and possibly even thousands of additional animal victims. The Houston SPCA has established an off-site animal sheltering facility that will be fully staffed and operational if necessary.
The human death toll caused by Hurricane Katrina is estimated to be in the thousands. At this time there are no estimates on what the animal death toll may be. When you hear however the stories of animals left behind and then see the pictures of homes flooded up to the roof, we can only hope it will not be as bad as it looks.

Monetary donations to help the Houston SPCA cope with the cost of caring for all the animals is the biggest immediate need. Their needs also included: Newspapers, zip ties / cable ties, rolls of paper towels, foil roasting pans (to be used as litter boxes), travel crates for the animals, bowls, towels & blankets, gallon jugs of water, ice chests, tarps, duct tape, rope, gloves, first aid kits, masks, general office supplies, trash bags & cans, spray bottles, dishwashing & laundry soap, scrubbing brushes, can openers, cat litter & life jackets. All the donations could be made directly at the Houston SPCA or on their website…www.houstonspca.org

Kenny and Sugar

Here is one story shared by Mrs. Sarmiento from Hurricane Katrina: An older man by the name of Kenny lost everything to Hurricane Katrina. He had become separated from his wife and daughter during the storm so he and his beloved dog Sugar stuck together. They slept outside for three long nights. Huddling together, sharing meals and trying to escape the rising water all around them. Then, they finally made it on board a bus from New Orleans to Houston’s Reliant Park just days after Katrina had struck. “I shared my every and last meal with her,” said Kenny as he enveloped Sugar, his terrier mix dog, in a great big bear hug. Reunited with his “baby” and his human family, Kenny looked back before walking out the door of the Houston SPCA. He smiles and says, “Everybody in Texas…I love ya!”

There were many heroes in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and our own Texas “Animal Heroes” were among those that answered the call and opened their doors to help. Many of the resources of the Houston SPCA were tapped and are still being used right now to deal with this tragedy. For some of these people their animals are all that they have left so the job the Houston SPCA is doing is immeasurable. There are resources they need to continue the invaluable job of caring for those affected by Hurricane Katrina and everyday abuse all over the state of Texas. They rely on our help so please donate if you can. The need is always there. Without them where would our animal family members be?

In closing. I ran into a family at the local Wal-Mart just the other day. A precious young girl came up to Brianna and I then asked our names and where our home was. Brianna told her both as only Brianna can. The girl then told us her name and that she was five yrs. old. She then looked at me and said “Ma’am, they say our home is no more and that there is no more New Orleans or even part of Louisiana! We be staying at the Kelly Base with our Mom and my little sis over there.” Her Mom then said to quit busting into our business and I told her she was fine. After a short conversation the mother looked at me and said; “God bless you and your family. You folks here in Texas have made us all feel like family. You are taking care of our kids and us adults like your own and I am blessed every time I meet one of you.” I could not help but to feel proud of being a Texan and to all of those that are assisting in some way or can donate to the Houston SPCA with their efforts. God bless you too!

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