By Carmen Crandell
Many pet owners love their pets and treat them like family members, but this intense affection also forces them to make agonizing choices when it comes to evacuating in times of natural disasters. During Hurricane Harvey, some had no choice but to leave their beloved pets behind when fleeing the rising waters, while others were able to carry their pets with them to safety. Evacuation was only the beginning; pet owners had to find accommodations that allowed their animals to join them. Some evacuees found refuge in the homes of family and friends, but others arrived at local shelters, which did not necessarily welcome pets.
A lack of pet-friendly options consistently presented an obstacle for pet owners facing evacuation. Captain Nathan Lilley, a firefighter and paramedic with the Houston Fire Department (HFD), remembered seeing people who were not trapped initially but stayed in their homes to protect their pets. When HFD responded, he noted, “The water was three and four feet high into their living space, but they didn’t want to leave because they didn’t want to lose their pets.” In some cases, first responders had to cut holes into the roof to rescue pet owners from their attics.
While no pet owner wants to leave their pet behind, they might feel they have no choice. José Manuel Méndez evacuated from his home in Spring on August 25, 2017.
The family did not anticipate the water rising so high, and, at the last minute, decided to evacuate to Mexia, Texas, two hours away. José’s truck had enough space to carry the family of six and their small dog but not enough room for their big dog. They made the tough decision to leave him behind with food, hoping José could return.
The floodwaters continued to rise and by the next morn- ing, the “kids [were] really frantic,” scared the dog might drown. José decided to return to his home, purchasing a kayak to rescue his dog. Along the way, he met someone with a larger boat who volunteered to take him home. When he arrived, the water in the street was up to his chest while the water in his house was above his knees. Once inside, José found his dog on the couch attempting to avoid the floodwater. Thankfully, the Méndez family avoided heartache, but not all pet owners were so fortunate.
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Click on the links below for more information about the impact of Hurricane Harvey on pets and wildlife: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2017/08/dogs-harvey-hurricane-pets-cats/