Austin Pets Alive! evacuates dogs in Houston during Harvey

Reagan Ritterbush

When Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston-area animal shelters in early August, Austin-based rescue shelter Austin Pets Alive answered a cry — and a bark — for help, tripling its number of foster dogs. 

More than 2,000 animals from the Houston area are now members of the APA community due to overflooded shelters from Hurricane Harvey. The number of fosters for dogs tripled and the number for cats doubled, reaching over 1,000 total foster animals, a record high, according to Mary Heerwald, APA director of marketing and communications. 

APA reached out to shelters in the Houston region to help evacuate animals before Harvey touched ground. Heerwald said the rescue sent teams out all over Texas, from Corpus Christi to Houston, to evacuate the animals from the coming storm.

“A lot of shelters don’t have evacuation plans in place and don’t expect storms like Harvey to hit, so we were proactively helping those who needed it,” Heerwald said. “When the storm actually hit, we got a lot of pleas from not only shelters, but people who had found abandoned animals in the flooding.”

Both the Town Lake and Tarrytown APA locations are at full capacity, Heerwald said. Many no-kill shelters, or shelters against euthanization, around the country are stepping up to help rescue some of the animals.

Heerwald also said although APA has never cared for this number of animals, people from all over the country are coming out to help them.

“There are volunteers from California and New York coming to help us,” Heerwald said. “Our employees are working around the clock, but it’s worth it. It means we’re saving lives.”

Heerwald said at first, APA sent up a staging ground to vet and document animals in a Katy parking lot before transporting them to Austin. The operation has since been moved inside, and animals are being transported to a Houston Pets Alive facility near NRG Stadium in Houston, Heerwald said.

“More and more animals kept coming, but the Austin community has really stepped up to help,” Heerwald said. “I am grateful for the continuing support we are getting for these animals.”

Some of the shelters APA helped include Fort Bend County Animal Shelter and BARC Animal Shelters and Adoptions. UT alumna Ashtyn Rivet, BARC’s deputy assistant director, said APA pulled 261 animals from their shelter, which for a time was surrounded by water.

“When disaster strikes, it takes a village to rebuild,” Rivet said. “We are forever grateful to APA. They have not only had a great impact on the animals in the Houston area but the community as well.”

Heerwald said animals that aren’t confirmed strays or animals turned in by their owners are being sent to the Best Friends Facility.

Lindsey Picard, APA’s marketing manager, said though some of the animals are sick and some are pregnant, most are in great condition and great spirits. Once the animals get to Austin, they are well cared for by all the volunteers and employees, Picard said.

“A lot of the animals can be adaptable, but it is understandable if they are scared,” Heerwald said. “It’s hard to see them. Humans have the ability to rationalize these kinds of situations, but animals have no one to explain it to them.”