Best Friends Partners on Hurricane Harvey Rescue and Reunite Center

On Thursday, August 31, the Best Friends team moved from Austin, Texas to a new operations center at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds just 30 miles north of Houston in Conroe, Texas.

The Rescue and Reunite Center in conjunction with the Montgomery County Animal Shelter and Best Friends Animal Society is already up and running and housing animals, with more arriving all the time. We are partnering with Montgomery County Animal Shelter who have been running an evacuees’ pet shelter, co-located close a human shelter.

Today our rescue teams were dispatched west of Houston to Katy, and to the Beaumont area, which has undergone tremendous damage. As soon as we open our doors, the animals began to arrive.

Animals come to the rescue center in two categories, which is standard for sheltering operations in the disaster area. There are pets who are ready to go out to receiving shelters for immediate adoption, and those who we’ll work to reunite with their human family from which they were abruptly separated by the storm.

The first group of animals are those who were in shelters before the storm hit, and have been relocated to rescue groups and shelters across the country to make room for the anticipated influx of dogs and cats displaced by Harvey. Some of the animals in this group did have homes before the storm, but their families’ lives and homes were so utterly destroyed by the storm that that they felt they could no longer care for their pets, and surrendered them.

The second group of animals is made up of those who were lost, left behind or were refused passage on a boat by a government rescue team.

The two groups pose distinctly different challenges. The first group, those with no strings attached are more straightforward to help into the next phase of their lives. They require no data tracking linking them to their prior life, no chain of custody. Basically all they need is spay or neuter, vaccines and a wagging tail to land in a new home.

This is not so with animals that assumed to have families, but are now separated. For them, the more information the better, and that information needs to accompany each of those animals through every step of their journey, especially if their family has been relocated out of the region or the pet is placed in foster care in a different city or state.

Remember, to a third party, every black lab looks alike and often the only way the owner can be matched is with supplemental details. Where the animal was found, the date found, photos, weight, gender, collar – or not, eye color, etc., all of that is important information.

So, while the first group, animals ready for adoption could, theoretically, go to a new home the same day they arrive at a rescue center, the second group must be held either in our center or in foster care for a sufficient time for their family to locate them, if they are looking.

That may require an extended length of stay, and if pets go into foster care it requires an agreement that the foster family will return the pet to their original family.

And then of course there is the reunite component of the operation. That means welcoming individuals and families searching for their lost pets, showing them the pets at our center, in hopes we have their pet. If we don’t, it means counseling families about where else to look and sometimes consoling those who have looked everywhere else and continue to search.

Those are the parameters that define an emergency shelter, along with veterinary care, enrichment and the responsibility of knowing that you are caring for someone’s lost family member. That’s the work that will go on at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. That’s disaster rescue.

Together We Will Save Them All.