Sunday, February 25, 2024
animal rescueDaily Featuredisaster responsehealth and safety

Helping Animals After a Disaster

two cats in carriers in car

Hurricane Harvey’s rains turned into an unbelievably destructive flood, even in a state that is accustomed to hurricanes and their aftereffects. Those who live in Houston, Austin and Corpus Christi and other cities and areas around them that are now under water with rain still falling from Tropical Storm Harvey have had to evacuate, or somehow try to survive where transportation is impossible and all stores and accommodations are out of commission.

Animals who rely on humans for care are obviously in danger as well. Many pets are traveling with evacuees, but they’ve also been surrendered to shelters to care for them or left behind and rescue organizations are scrambling to rescue them. Abandonment or surrender of pets in situations like this is often not neglect or lack of caring—if your pets were outdoors, if you couldn’t find them in the house, if they wouldn’t go in a carrier and the water was rising, leaving and letting authorities, who have skills at trapping pets in danger, know your pets are still there might be a better way to save them, and yourself. If a family has to evacuate in a hurry and they don’t have space in their vehicle, if their pet has special needs, if they aren’t sure they’d be able to find a place to stay that allows pets, and considering they may be gone from their home for months, even years, surrendering to a shelter could be the best decision for their pets. Shelters in Texas are now shuffling thousands of pets around to get them all to safety.

There are also fields of livestock in this state who need to be moved to higher ground or they will sicken or die without food and standing in the flood waters. People are also monitoring wildlife in trees and on high ground, and even pulling bats off the undersides of bridges.

Donating or volunteering now is a compassionate act, and also remember that once the immediate storm has passed all these people and animals will still need help for months or even years to come. When the town I live in was flooded in 2004, the actual flooding lasted less than 24 hours, but Main Street took three months to reopen, most people were out of their houses for at least a month, many several months and up to two years, and many never returned. Homes all over town ended up demolished because of the damage. Consider what you might be able to do to help later in the year and next year as well.

Links to help animals and people in need in Texas are below.


Below are four simple tips from animal rescue organizations local to international for how volunteers can best help animals in the wake of a natural disaster:

  • Find who has already organized rescue efforts, sign up as a volunteer, and join in to help where your skills and abilities best fit.
  • Don’t move animals unless you are requested to do so. If you find an animal you feel is abandoned call the nearest agency to find out if you should move it and who has the room and can provide for that animal.
  • Find out what agencies and shelters need before you collect goods and food for donation.
  • If you donate money, donate directly to a local shelter or organization to avoid scams.

Each season, cities, states, regions, countries and continents all over the world suffer natural disasters involving rain, snow, wind, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, power outages, fires and earthquakes. People and animals hunker down or evacuate, then regroup, restore and rebuild. Even something as seemingly innocuous as a summer thunderstorm can dump enough rain on a small area to cause rivers to overflow their banks or streams to flash flood, and neighborhoods and whole towns are devastated by the force of the water and what it does, and doesn’t, leave behind.

In the US, pets, livestock and wildlife had rarely been considered in emergency plans or permitted in evacuation shelters before Hurricane Katrina in 2004 when hundreds of people refused to evacuate before and after the storm without their pets. But within just a few years of Hurricane Katrina pets began to be included in many states’ emergency plans. A system of “Animal Response Teams” was organized by cities, counties and states to rescue and shelter pets, livestock and even wildlife in the wake of natural disasters depending on their local needs.

When disasters put people and their pets and animals in danger, we naturally want to help, and agencies and organizations including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), American Humane Association (AHA), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), AVMA to Petfinder, all members of the National Animal Rescue & Sheltering Coalition Member Organizations (NARSC), have advice and guidelines for how help is best given.

Find out what’s already in process and join in where your skills fit best

Don’t run to an emergency site and start trying to rescue people and animals. Conditions are often dangerous in the aftermath of a disaster and you could easily be injured or injure others, human or animal. Things may appear disorganized in the first few hours, but by waiting a day or two you can offer more help with combined efforts. The agencies who assist communities with animal rescue after disasters are equipped with staff, training and procedures to be able to face just about any situation. They begin to assess as soon as the situation begins, before they even arrive on site, and are in touch with all police and emergency personnel in the area, not just those handling animals, and coordinate a plan that best uses what is available in the area and what they can bring to the situation.

Find what you feel you can do and formally sign up as a volunteer so that your time and actions are accountable and you are accounted for. Shelters and agencies have to account for the health and welfare of all the animals in their care and for good or ill all activities should be documented, and volunteer help can also count toward future help from agencies. Also, in the melee, you, who may be from out of town and a complete stranger, can be tracked and cared for.

Don’t move an animal unless you are requested to do so

Unless an animal is obviously injured or in some physical distress, leave it where it is, contain it if possible and report it, then get instructions on the best thing for you to do. Local shelters may have been damaged or are suddenly overcrowded with animals in need, and any rescued animals may need to go somewhere else entirely. Animal response teams may be tied up with other rescues but able to get there. Follow instructions, and don’t remove animals from an area without permission because animals removed from a disaster area stand a far smaller chance of being reunited with an owner.

Find out what is needed before donating goods

A natural thing to do is to organize a food drive for cats and dogs, but that may actually be the last thing a shelter needs that’s housing animals in a disaster. An organization like AHA, HSUS or ASPCA may arrive with supplies, or a local pet supply store or pet food manufacturer may donate pallets of food or cat litter, but the shelter may be in desperate need of cages to safely contain the extra animals. Extra food bowls, bedding, even cleaning supplies may be in more demand, and they may also have rescued some exotic animals who need a special diet. Don’t presume they can use an unrequested donation later if they don’t need it now, or they can pass it along to others who do need it—in the middle of a disaster no one has the time to find storage space and figure out what to do with something they don’t need, they only have time for the immediate demands.

Look for the resources on shelter, rescue and Animal Response Team websites and Facebook pages to keep up to date with what is already happening and what is most needed at the moment—and the lists change sometimes every day. Don’t donate damaged or dirty items, repair or clean them first because those organizing the effort don’t have the time or often the means to take care of it.

Donate cash locally

Scams of all sorts pop up after a disaster, especially those that offer to collect donations for a cause, so be careful where your money goes. The national organizations who show up after a disaster collect donations year round to cover the costs of disaster response, and are especially grateful if you can donate to them at the time of a disaster as well, but your local shelters and agencies are probably more cash-strapped for pressing needs like all those supplies listed above, gas for emergency vehicles, emergency treatment for animals who may be injured or ill.

Foster pets

If you have the space and the skill, helping shelters full of lost and needy animals by taking one or two home to foster would be an immense help for them. The animals may be traumatized by the whole experience, and being back in a quieter home situation, even an unfamiliar one, can help them adjust. Because being in a stressful environment can also reduce their immune response to illness, you’ll help keep them healthier too.

Before a disaster strikes you

Be prepared before it happens by creating an emergency kit for your pet, and having your pet microchipped. Read Emergency Preparedness for You and Your Pets.

Resources to help

Note that often organization Facebook pages are updated more frequently than websites.


For animals

Friends For Life Animal Rescue and Adoption Organization – Houston is collecting food and supplies for pets at the George R. Brown Convention Center which is being used as an evacuation shelter in Houston. Their Facebook page does indeed have more information: You can also donate through their website:

Austin Pets Alive! is helping shelters in and around Austin, TX:

SPCA of Texas is taking in hundreds of rescued animals and coordinating places for them to go:

Houston SPCA:

Wildlife Center of Texas:

Texas A&M Vet Emergency Response: https://vetmed.

Houston Humane Society:

Best Friends Animal Society Emergency Response Team:

Best Friends Animal Society list of local partner shelters who need help:

The ASPCA Prepares Harvey Rescue Efforts:

American Humane Association:

Humane Society of the United States:

The Weather Channel is helping to find and reunite pets:

Alley Cat Allies (note: ACA didn’t have their rescue response information available until after I posted this article, but they are on the ground trapping and rescuing community cats and making sure caretakers and shelters have food and supplies in the wake of Harvey):


For people

Where to Donate to Harvey Victims (and How to Avoid Scams)

The American Red Cross

Team Rubicon, a veteran-led disaster response team

Houston Food Bank

Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County

Airbnb, Urgent Accommodations All service fees are waived for those affected by the disaster and checking in between August 23, 2017 and September 25, 2017

Go Fund Me, a dozen options for donating toward Hurricane Harvey disaster relief

Portlight, Portlight Strategies and the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies Hurricane Harvey Disability Hotline


About animal organizations who respond to disasters

American Humane Association Red Star Rescue

ASPCA Field Investigations and Response

Humane Society of the United States Disaster Relief


American Red Cross Pet Disaster and Safety

FEMA Helping Pets

Matador Network (International Travel) How To Help Animals After A Disaster

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