Humane Society: Houston's animals and pets need our help, too

Editor’s Note: To support the Humane Society of the United States’ disaster response efforts, go to www.humanesociety.org.

The struggles and despair in Houston and in dozens of surrounding counties remind us of how fundamentally, how poignantly, our lives are linked with animals. When it comes to grabbing what they can, Texans are hoisting their dogs on their shoulders and putting their cats in carriers and pulling themselves from flooded homes and streets, leaving behind the ephemera of material possessions and holding on to what really counts.

If you have spent your life as a champion of the human-animal bond, as I have, these hours have been as moving as anything I’ve ever imagined.

There is more to do. Much more, as we all know.

For every high-water rescue that brings forth cheers, we must also recognize the certainty of unseen tragedies ahead, or unfolding out of sight in these destructive and perilous moments. America should know that The Humane Society of the United States has moved into help. Out to save our pets, to help animal shelters and wildlife rehabilitation centers in the path of the storm, and to keep our communities whole. 

We’ll rejoice at every success story, and we won’t stop – first-responders, animal welfare organizations, neighbors and Americans everywhere. Animals bind people together. They are at the center of the human story, and they should also be at the center of our thinking as we respond to this crisis.

A merciless, long-running weather event stretching over 50 counties is enough to overwhelm any single organization, or any established network of organizations. So to build our ranks and rise to the occasion, we’re partnering with local and national groups, with other first-responders, and with state and local disaster agencies, to make sure that the animals remain a priority concern. And that’s just the beginning.

On Monday alone, we brought resources to evacuate 200 animals from one shelter to make room for others who are being displaced. We’ll be transporting animals, with partners like Wings of Rescue to states as far off as Washington and New Jersey. And we’ll rely on like-minded sheltering organizations in nearby states, especially in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Tennessee.

I mention these specifics because they illustrate something significant. The larger disaster-response community is showing us that it understands the essential, unbreakable human-animal bond must be considered from the get-go. Animals are not being overlooked even in the early going.

This is a big change, and a valuable one, since 2005 and Hurricane Katrina. This time, we see Good Samaritans out reminding people to be on the lookout for animals as they go house to house. We see private rescue boats loaded with people and with dogs – families weathering this storm, together and intact, in terms of what really matters.

We see local news stories celebrating the fortitude of Texans and Texas animals too. Indeed in advance of landfall, local news media emphasized over and over again that pets must be considered in family emergency plans.

Hopefully, we’ll prove that animal welfare organizations have learned the lessons of the recent past too. There is no time now for back-patting or self-congratulations, but we’re oriented properly and the masses of the American public are behind us – having learned the lessons of Katrina a dozen years ago.

Even before the storm hit, we were evacuating animals from the impact area, working with the SPCA of Texas in Dallas to handle large shipments of animals to keep them out of harm’s way. Support for animals in emergency shelters is underway.

We’ll keep after it. We’ll rejoice at every success story, and we won’t stop. And when I say “we,” I mean all of us – first-responders, animal welfare organizations, neighbors and Americans everywhere.  Animals bind people together. They are at the center of the human story, and they should also be at the center of our thinking as we respond to this crisis.

Wayne Pacelle, president & CEO, of The Humane Society of the United States, is author of the New York Times bestseller, The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them.