Although the magnitude of Hurricane Harvey's disaster is still being assessed, 100,000 or more homes were damaged and destroyed, dozens have died and many more are in need. As with other mega-disasters, getting back to normal will take years in the hardest-hit spots.
And it's not just the people who are suffering. Pets have faced extraordinary hardships in the aftermath of Harvey. Thousands are thought to be displaced or missing. Organizations have rushed in from all parts of the country to help.
Hurricane-displaced cats and dogs are on the move. They're showing up in cities such as Chicago and states such as Connecticut, transported there for medical attention and foster homes. Some got a lift via Southwest Airlines to San Diego. In D.C., Washington Nationals star Max Scherzer and his wife, Erica May-Scherzer, covered adoption fees during the initial aftermath of the disaster.
Given the immense human tragedy, the outpouring of care for pets has been nothing short of remarkable.
We learned our lesson after Hurricane Katrina. Your family's disaster plan needs to include pets. This is true on both a personal level as a pet owner, and it is true for first responders, as well as many shelters.
According to The Washington Post's Karin Brulliard, "One 2006 poll found 44 percent of people who chose not to evacuate during Katrina did so because they did not want to abandon their pets."
We've always loved our pets, but Katrina codified the need to protect them like family in a natural disaster. The Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act was born of that storm. It requires that response plans "account for the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals before, during and following a major disaster or emergency."
National organizations such as the Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are leading the charge. These advocacy groups act as top-level managers overseeing a huge post-disaster effort. Arguably just as critical, smaller organizations nationwide come in to fill the gaps.
Moving pets around quickly and efficiently is critical to their survival, their return to owners or their placement with new owners. Time is of the essence, which makes small, agile organizations important.
In D.C., the Humane Rescue Alliance (HRA) is one of these regional organizations assisting in the national effort. One way they do this is by taking animals that were already in shelters in the storm-affected areas when Harvey hit. It makes way for new animals displaced by the storm, and it eases the burden for the employees who are dealing with a disaster in their own back yard.
"A five-person team from [our group] flew to Dallas yesterday to assist the ASPCA's Field Investigations and Response team in the effort to help animals displaced by Hurricane Harvey," HRA Communications Director Matt Williams told us via email.
The D.C. HRA assisted in setting up a temporary emergency shelter there.
"They are taking care of dogs, cats and birds, primarily from families who have been displaced by the flooding associated with Hurricane Harvey," Williams said.
Today's pet-saving network is much bigger and stronger than it was in the past. Dave Liedman, director of City Dogs Rescue & City Kitties, a D.C. advocacy group, says there are "efforts now spread across the country, especially thanks to social media."
In this sense, a disaster is now part of an ongoing process of finding pets homes, one that thousands of local organizations such as his are tackling.
"There are groups coordinating rescues and transportation 365 days a year," Liedman said.
Taking in a pet is a significant decision. It's life-changing. But if you think it's the right thing to do, now is a good time to contact local shelters. The effort from Hurricane Harvey is still underway, and new pets are already on the move in areas threatened by Hurricane Irma.
If a pet is not in your near future, there are other things you can do, the first of which is to spread the word.
"Even if someone can't adopt, telling friends that might be able to adopt is extremely helpful," Williams said.
Liedman points out that "fostering a dog for 3 weeks to 3 months is a huge help. Otherwise, groups like the Humane Society of the United States is a great organization to contribute to."
Animal advocacy groups also take donations. A few extra bucks can save a life and help bring years of happiness to a family.
As a dad to a pup (they're always pups!) that once had just hours to live before being rescued, I can certainly attest to the great joy they can bring. I must admit, I've been thinking of adding a Harvey refugee to my home. We've always thought Bentley could use a buddy.