Story by Jennifer McGrath, American Red Cross
With just a couple of inches of water in his house, Pat Brady thought he could ride out Hurricane Harvey at his Houston home. In 36 years, he’s never had to leave his house due to flooding.
Pat and his constant companion Beau, a little 5-year-old white, fuzzy dog, turned down the Houston Fire Department when they came to his door asking him if he wanted to leave with them.
But minutes after they left, the water starting getting close to the electrical outlets in his living room and Pat changed his mind.
He quickly called them back, was loaded with his beloved Beau into a boat and then onto a bus, which took him to the American Red Cross at the downtown George R. Brown Convention Center.
Once at the shelter, Pat settled into one of the halls converted into dormitories. Because he had his dog with him, he was assigned the dormitory that allows pets. Along with the cot, blanket and comfort kit provided Pat, he also got a crate, food and bowl for Beau.
Under regular circumstances, putting hundreds of dogs and people into one space isn’t normal. But these aren’t regular circumstances. Thousands displaced by Harvey have streamed into the shelter with scores of them bringing their dogs, cats, and even pet rabbits with them.
Knowing that people won’t evacuate if they can’t bring their pets, the Red Cross partnered with Friends for Life, a Houston-based, no-kill animal shelter, to help manage the four-legged evacuees.
Their staff reached out through social media to request donations of pet food, crates, collars, bowls and other pet supplies to have on hand at the shelter. Donations poured in, and one section of what’s being called the “Doggie Dorm” has the look of a pet store.
“It’s extraordinary, the outpouring of support,” said Salise Shuttlesworth, executive director of Friends for Life. She also reached out to her board and secured veterinary services for shelter residents.
“This is an experiment. This is historic,” Salise said. “This is going to be the model going forward. It is possible to shelter with animals.”
“It’s going smoothly,” stated Vic Parker, the Red Cross shelter manager.
It’s surprisingly calm in the pet dormitory. Most dogs are calmly lying on cots or in crates with a few random barks. A few barks can be heard here and there. Owners take their dogs outside periodically to stretch their legs and relieve themselves.
At one point, more than 400 dogs stayed in the shelter with their owners. About 30 percent of the animals in the shelter are cats. More people and their pets are expected to come to the shelter in the next few days.
For Pat, his world is wrapped up in Beau, who was given to him by friends after his wife’s funeral five years ago.
“My whole life is wrapped up in him,” Pat said, as he held Beau close to him.
Would he have left Beau to the rising water if he hadn’t been able to bring the dog with him? Thanks to the Red Cross doggie dorm, it wasn’t a decision he had to make.