Vet care for pets after Hurricane Harvey

Veterinarians and vet techs help Hurricane Harvey animals, providing checkups, vaccines and critical care, at the Rescue and Reunite Center in Texas.
By Nicole Hamilton

All 800-plus pets arriving at the Rescue and Reunite Center at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Texas have two things in common. They survived Hurricane Harvey and they need care.

Even those who come through relatively unscathed need a vet checkup and vaccines before joining the other dogs and cats there, to make sure disease doesn’t spread. That’s where a small army of volunteer veterinarians and vet techs come in. They make sure that all pets at the Rescue and Reunite Center, a partnership between Best Friends and the Montgomery County Animal Shelter, get that expert care.

Vets and techs are working day and night to help pets needing extra care. There have been litters of puppies and their mothers, a dog with a broken leg and a cat in renal failure. But every pet is healthier now than when they first came through the center’s doors. Put together on the fly after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, this lifesaving team is caring for the more than 800 animals brought to the rescue center since it opened last week.

Volunteer with a puppy at the at the Rescue and Reunite Center after Hurricane Harvey

Veterinarians helping pets after Hurricane Harvey

Some members of this medical team have come from as far away as Chicago and Los Angeles to join local vets and vet techs, who watched Hurricane Harvey wreak havoc in their own backyards. As veterinary staff arrived at the center, they immediately put together a plan, aided by countless donations from veterinary practices, local businesses and individuals. Together, they transformed an area of the rescue center into a working veterinary clinic

As soon as Dr. Zoe Ramagnano of Angel City Pit Bulls in Los Angeles learned of the flooding in Texas, she knew she needed to be there to help save lives. She reached out to Best Friends with an offer of help. The next day, she was on a plane bound for Conroe, Texas.

“When I arrived, I was both extremely overwhelmed and incredibly impressed,” says Dr. Zoe, who volunteered for a week as the center’s medical director.  

As soon as the animals arrive, they are examined by the medical team and receive a heartworm test and vaccines.

As the animals wait to be reunited with their families or to go to rescue organizations to find new homes, they receive constant care. The dogs are walked throughout the day, while the cats are housed and examined in a quieter part of the center, to help them stay calm and relaxed.

While the care required for dogs and cats are much different, they both need love. And rest assured, they’re getting plenty of it.  “Best Friends and Montgomery County have created a positive place here,” says Dr. Zoe. “And that really matters to the animals.”

Woman comforting a dog at the at the Rescue and Reunite Center after Hurricane Harvey

Critical care for Hurricane Harvey’s pets

The job of saving lives can be around-the-clock work, and the medical team provides care in shifts. “We help each other out and work as a team,” says Dr. Andy Orals, who has a practice outside of Chicago. “There are a lot of good people here working together for one cause, and I think that’s what is so inspiring.”

Dr. Orals was one of the vets on duty one evening when a German shepherd, missing part of her tail, was brought in. The medical team took one look and knew she needed emergency surgery. They contacted a local veterinary hospital, which donated needed medications, and they performed ER-style surgery to treat the severe tail wound.

A dog receiving veterinary care at the at the Rescue and Reunite Center after Hurricane Harvey

Nearby, another group of vets performed triage for a parasite-infested puppy brought in with her mom and six other siblings. The little pup wasn’t eating and looked pale. Dr. Lori McKelroy of Four Paws Animal Hospital in Rowlett, Texas, knew the puppy needed a blood transfusion, so she got to work taking blood from the puppy’s mom. Today, the puppy is growing stronger.

Meanwhile in the cat room, veterinarians helped diagnose a cat in renal failure and created a treatment plan that a care team from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, would follow.

Woman holding a kitten at the at the Rescue and Reunite Center after Hurricane Harvey

Coming together to save Houston’s animals

“Everyone has come together to do what they can, and I wanted to be a part of it,” says Dr. Jay Tischendorf, a volunteer veterinarian from Conroe. “Some people lost everything,” says Dr. Jay, “but they’re still doing everything they can to help.”

Dr. Jay was specifically talking about Dr. Todd Hayden, a fellow veterinarian and U.S. military veteran from Montgomery County who lost his office, where he provides vet care for low-income residents. But that didn’t stop Dr. Hayden from coming to the rescue center one day with a radiograph machine to perform X-rays for the animals.

Donate. Help rescue and reunite.

Thousands of animals have been affected by Hurricane Harvey, and help for Houston’s pets extends far beyond the rescue center. Best Friends has partnered with to help reunite pets with their people, as well as provide veterinary advice to pet owners unable to get to a veterinarian. Vets are on hand to provide guidance for families with pets needing treatment for common flood-related medical conditions, until they can take their pets to a veterinarian in person.

Dog's paw holding a tattooed arm at the at the Rescue and Reunite Center after Hurricane Harvey

Photos by Melissa Lipani and Molly Wald