ATLANTA – The Atlanta Humane Society received a special shipment full of furry, precious cargo early Friday morning, straight from Houston.
It took over 14 hours, but they finally arrived.
“We hit a couple of rainy spots. The guys in the truck had a couple of bug problems, so it's been a long trip,” Ashley Steffey, who traveled with the truck from the Austin Humane Society, said.
When Hurricane Harvey slammed Houston last week, animals were one of many types of victims throughout the city. Now, The Atlanta Humane Society is stepping up to help more than 100 four-legged survivors of the deadly storm crashing down on Texas.
The local Humane Society greeted the arrival of 110 adoptable animals from the Houston SPCA between early Friday morning. The animals were en route to Georgia from Texas overnight.
“The cats are doing great. We're OK. We're running on adrenaline, I think,” Steffey said.
The animals that were shuttled across the country by the SPCA of Texas and Austin Humane Society, were not animals that were displaced by the hurricane, lost from their families or were strays found on the streets during the hurricane. These animals were already adoptable animals at the Houston SPCA before Hurricane Harvey hit.
But their move will give more space in the Houston shelter for animals that have been displaced by the storm.
“Every kennel these guys freed up is a place the displaced animals from the hurricane can. This is a huge help because all those kennels are open for the guys that are coming in,” Steffey said.
Volunteer travels the country to help animals in need
Heather Harris, an emergency veterinary technician from Killeen, Texas, helped drive animals from Houston to Atlanta.
She works Happy Feet Rescue and has a ranch of her own about four hours from Houston.
It's been non-stop.
“We were up at 5 a.m., went to bed at 2 a.m., up again at 5:30 a.m., sleeping in the front seat of a truck… doing everything we can.”
Last week, she said, she sent a text message to a man whom she’s never met and who runs Safe Canine Transports in San Antonio, Texas. She found him via a post on Facebook. He was going to rescue and transport animals to safety from Hurricane Harvey.
“I said, ‘I have all this experience…’ [he] said, ‘Yes, I'll take you.’ He said, ‘Meet me in Pipe Creek, Texas,’ which is right outside of San Antonio, at 3 a.m.”
So, she packed up her stuff and went to meet a guy in, what she called, the middle of nowhere in the early morning, by herself to help animals.
“We drove into Houston and begged them to let us through the barricades into Katy, Texas. We were driving through floodwaters. We were getting turned around. We were going the wrong direction on empty freeways, but going through floodwaters. We had no plan in place, but to try to find animals to pull out.”
She took to Facebook and asked for boats. Within hours she had a boat.
The group’s first truck was flooded and they had to walk about a quarter of a mile in waist-deep water to another truck.
But it’s been a long road to Atlanta.
“I left Sunday night from Lampasas, Texas. I've had one shower which was last night and I've had eight hours of sleep in that whole time and that wasn't a continuous eight hours of sleep.”
So, why in the world does she do it?
“It's the animals. We're saving lives. It's adrenaline. It's emotion. It's… I don't know. Hot Dr. Peppers, hot Monsters, lots of water. Volunteer efforts are crazy-amazing. That's the only word for it. Just crazy.”
While she was busy helping animals, the community was helping her and her team along the way.
The generator that was in truck that was flooded, which was a huge asset to their mission. But, again, she turned to Facebook.
“Fifteen minutes later we had three brand-new generators delivered to us. How does that happen? I mean, just amazing the people.”
“It's for the animals. it's what we do. It's what we live for. It's something in me that… something spoke to me and I said, 'I can't sit here and watch this. I gotta get down there. I gotta help.'”
And she has.
In fact, this week, her team has rescued approximately 2,000 animals. And that’s just her group.
But the flooding is something she still cannot fully comprehend.
“The flooding… you see it on TV; you see it on the news; you see pictures. You can't describe it. It's surreal. You're driving down the main highways in Houston, which are normally packed and there's nobody on there and there’s water. I mean we're driving through feet of water. We're not talking inches; they're starting to measure in feet.”
And even though she’s had very little sleep, more energy drinks than she can count and hours upon hours of driving through the night, she can’t help but want to do more.
“You're just… ‘Let's go to the next one. It's, get as many as you can. OK, we got this one. We don't have time. Let's get to the next one. Where are we going next? Gimme another address. Gimme another address.”
What keeps her motivated is each animal she has rescued. One dog that was in a second-story apartment that had flooded with a foot of water. The dog was up on the couch.
“The fact that we're getting to them, I just, I don’t know the word for it. It just kind of melts your heart. It makes you sad they had to be there for three to four days by themselves. [It] makes you happy that you're getting them out now and they’re safe. You're also in mission mode where you're like, ‘Let's go on to the next one…’ It's, ‘Get as many as you can.’”
“When natural disasters happen, especially hurricanes, when flooding is such an issue, the shelters become extremely overwhelmed. Animals have been displaced, sometimes they become lost and the madness in the craziness in the infatuation they run. They're scared,” Christina Hill, with the Atlanta Humane Society, said while awaiting the animals’ arrival Friday morning.
“There are a lot of stray animals that were already on the street before the hurricane—unfortunately so all of these animals they need somewhere to go after that hurricane. They need a safe place.”
The Houston SPCA said that they're anticipating over 1,000 animals to come to their care from the hurricane.
“Normal capacity is probably about 500, but in situations like this they make emergency relief. They find places and conference rooms to place animals.”
After a quick veterinarian check, the cats will be dispersed to various area rescue partners, Hill said.
“For these 100 dogs and cats coming into our care today [are] already available for adoption. They were already at the Houston SPCA prior to the hurricane, so these are not animals that were lost or just placed,” Hill said.
The dogs will take a day to relax and get used to their new surroundings and then half of them will be transported up to the Atlanta Humane Society’s Alpharetta, Ga., location. The other half will stay at the Midtown location.
They will be available for adoption in the next couple of days.
Now, Hill's team is headed west to help the animals who are in need in Texas.
“Our animal emergency team is deploying to Houston. We're actually going to be at the Houston SPCA helping out with whatever needs to be helped out. What that looks like now is bringing in stray animals, helping with emergency rescue efforts, caring for animals and then hopefully reuniting lost pets with their family,” Hill said.
“In disasters like this, the animal welfare community really bond together. As soon as the hurricane hit, we reached out to all of our partners in the gulf—we reach out to all of our partners in the Northeast and across the country and we came together, coordinated efforts, and said, ‘OK, how can we best make the situation better for our partners in Houston?’”
For more on how you can adopt these animals, visit the Atlanta Humane Society's website.