JOHN YANG: Along with the mass evacuations of people from hurricanes Harvey and Irma, there have been some compelling images of other kinds of evacuees, feathered and furry, from zoo animals to personal pets.
In Houston, emergency service groups are trying to figure out the best way to protect pets during natural disasters. In fact, they want to set a new standard for sheltering animals.
Houston Public Media’s Tomeka Weatherspoon has the story.
TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON, Houston Public Media: In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey, Houston has been molding a new national model.
EVELYN CUTTS, Friends For Life: This has never been done before.
TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: They’re crafting a template for how to shelter animals during a natural disaster, literally.
After an estimated 170,000 pets either died or were left behind in Hurricane Katrina, groups across the country began disaster planning for animals.
When Harvey hit, folks like Evelyn Cutts with the no-kill animal shelter Friends For Life started managing a large number of pets rescued with their owners.
EVELYN CUTTS: On the first two days, we counted almost 700 dogs, probably, I think it was a couple hundred cats, and we have had other animals. We had a guinea pig, a few rabbits. We even had a chicken and two baby squirrels.
TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: They came to the George R. Brown Convention Center, one of Houston’s largest emergency shelters during the storm. It housed thousands of evacuees.
EVELYN CUTTS: A lot of people showed up at the Convention Center on Sunday night with their pets in tow, pouring rain, sitting in the rain, and they were not allowed to bring their pets in.
And our executive director of Friends for Life came down and talked to the Red Cross, the convention center, and convinced them to allow us to house the pets with their owners.
And then we put together the plan to how we were going to support this large group of people.
TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: The plan includes dedicating a section of the emergency shelter for owners to live with their pets.
Evacuee Larry Daniel resides within that area with his eight-week old Chihuahua Snickers. They haven’t been parted since being forced to leave their home during the storm.
LARRY DANIEL, Harvey Evacuee: And a fireman come and beat on my door and said I had to leave, and I had to leave now.
All I was able to get was him and my clothes on my back, and that was — I mean, from then on, it was, to be honest, a nightmare. He was in my arms the whole time.
TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: How different do you think it would have been if you weren’t able to take him with you?
LARRY DANIEL: It would have been awful lonely.
TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: For owners unable to take care of their pets, or stranded animals, there’s a foster care system that’s also a part of the plan. Pets go to someone willing to take them in temporarily.
Atalie Walding regularly fosters.
ATALIE WALDING, Friends For Life: With all these animals who have been displaced because of Harvey, they need a place to go.
TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: So you are a foster parent. Who is going to be coming home with you today?
ATALIE WALDING: So, I’m going to be taking home the mom. Her name is Sparkles. And her little puppies. We haven’t named them yet, but we’re thinking like Glitter and like some kind of craft names.
But all of them are going to be coming home with me today and staying in my foster workshop.
TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: All of them? How many?
ATALIE WALDING: There’s seven puppies and then there’s one mom.
TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: Folks willing to be foster parents are one of the biggest needs for this plan right now. But there are a lot of moving parts to keep it going.
Now, they’re taking notes as they go: how to check in families with pets, how to start setting up medical records. But a crucial component to all of this is to staying organized, which, during a natural disaster, can seem nearly impossible.
Composing a how-to guide while the crisis is still ongoing is tricky. But Evelyn Cutts says as soon as things slow down she will help write the manual.
EVELYN CUTTS: It’s been evolving every single day. We’re managing it. And we’re trying to develop it as we can. We’re changing the tires on a car that’s going a hundred miles an hour right now.
TOMEKA WEATHERSPOON: For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Tomeka Weatherspoon in Houston.