Thank you, NRG Arena!


On Friday, November 3, Best Friends wrapped up operations at the NRG Arena in Houston. The work that was done there over the last two months has been a benchmark of commitment and accomplishment for the organization.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast on August 25 and rather than progressing inland as most hurricane do, Harvey stayed over Houston for three days and let loose an unprecedented torrent of rain. Harvey turned out to be the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, and it dumped more than 52 inches of rain on the Houston area — another unfortunate American record.

During the first week of September, just a few days after Harvey departed the area, Best Friends moved its rescue, sheltering and reunion operations from the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Conroe, Texas, where we were guests of Montgomery County Animal Services, to a massive exhibit hall at NRG Arena, part of the sprawling NRG Park that includes the home field of the Houston Texans and the home court of the Houston Rockets. Use of this space was graciously donated by Harris County with the support of Judge Ed Emmett and Dr. Michael White, director of veterinary public health for Harris County. Houston PetSet, Houston Pets Alive and Austin Pets Alive were also involved.

The move entailed relocating more than 500 dogs and cats in just a few days, setting up kennels and establishing safety and health protocols, volunteer operations, public meet-and-greet areas for people to find pets displaced by the storm, veterinary care areas, data and record-keeping protocols, food prep and storage areas, and numerous other routine operations that are involved in managing a facility with more animals than Best Friends’ Dogtown.

On Monday, September 11, we opened the doors of the rescue and reunion center, dubbed the Pet Reunion Pavilion, to the public. Over the course of the next two months, Best Friends staff and volunteers from across the country quietly accomplished one of the most inspiring achievements in our history. By the numbers, it looked like this:

Animals in care: 192 cats, 605 dogs, 1 rabbit
Best Friends staff deployed: more than 160, rotating on two-week shifts
Volunteers: 964, volunteering 15,906 hours of work

Those are impressive statistics, but the story behind the numbers is more impressive. As I reported in an earlier blog post about the Hurricane Harvey animals, shortly after arriving at NRG Arena, we faced a disaster within the disaster: One of the dogs who had come into our care at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds was diagnosed with distemper.

That’s when the caliber, character, commitment and values of Best Friends staff and our extraordinary volunteers shined most brightly. On top of the basic tasks of feeding, walking, giving meds, cleaning and providing enrichment for hundreds of dogs in close quarters every day, the challenge of managing a distemper outbreak was added.

Distemper is a very contagious and potentially fatal disease. When outbreaks occur in traditional shelter environments, a mass killing of shelter dogs (euphemistically known as “de-population”) is a common strategy to rid the shelter of the virus.

Best Friends chose another course. We conducted this massive undertaking in a manner consistent with our organizational values, treating every animal as an individual and as if he or she were our own personal pet. These are the same principles that undergird the no-kill movement.

It’s impossible to put into words the profound impact that the work done at NRG Arena has had not only on all who participated on-site and in support roles remotely, but also on Best Friends as a whole. It has been a galvanizing, milestone event that brought out the best in all concerned.

The Houston community has gone above and beyond in their support of our post-Harvey work and continues to do so as we move forward. Though Harvey was tragic, the collaborative work that resulted sets the stage for a very bright future for no-kill in Harris County, and Best Friends will be a part of it.

Together, we will Save Them All.