Hurricane Harvey threatens thousands of pets and livestock

(Reuters) - Animal rescue advocates in Texas scrambled on Friday to protect or evacuate pets and livestock ahead of Hurricane Harvey, which threatened the lives of thousands of animals in its path.

A hurricane warning sign is seen under storm clouds, above a highway approaching Victoria, Texas, U.S. August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

At one animal shelter in La Porte, officials transported dozens of dogs and cats to a shelter in Houston. Houston’s Zoo stacked sandbags and left a “ride-out” crew to care for its 6,000 animals. In San Antonio, evacuees arrived to check into pet-friendly hotels.

“We were worried we wouldn’t be able to get back in and take care of the animals,” said Clarence Anderson, La Porte’s animal control supervisor.

Awareness of the plight of animals in the path of a devastating storms has greatly improved since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when an estimated 250,000 dogs and cats were displaced or died as a result of the storm, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Many people in New Orleans also opted out of evacuating because they did not want to leave their pets behind as animals were then barred from shelters.

Legislation passed since now requires authorities to include pets to existing federal guidelines for disaster planning, said Dick Green, senior director of disaster response for group.

Many hotels and some public transport systems now relax pet restrictions during such emergencies, while officials have stressed in public messaging the importance of evacuating with animals instead of leaving them behind.

But Harvey could present a key test, in storm with the potential to kill thousands of animals.

“We’re very concerned,” Green said.

Green was helping stage boats in Louisiana to prepare for hundreds of expected water animal rescues at homes and farms along the Gulf Coast and inland, including in rural areas filled with livestock ranches. Green said they were also concerned about the potential loss of wildlife.

On Friday, the Roman Forest Police Department in Texas turned to Facebook to plead with owners not to leave their pets tied outside with flooding likely.

Some animal shelters decided to stay put.

Several staff at the Galveston Island Humane Society were considering sleeping on an air mattresses alongside 200 animals sheltered in place, said director Caroline Dorsett-Pate.

In Houston, groups were poised to bring animal carriers and pet food to Red Cross shelters for people arriving with pets, while many local residents were offering to board animals, said Julie Kuenstle, a spokeswoman for the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Houston-area animal shelters were filling fast, she said.

“We’ve got fairgrounds and other locations that are offering property for those who don’t have a place for horses,” she said.

The Houston Humane Society was preparing to treat animals often injured by debris or drinking contaminated groundwater, said spokeswoman Monica Schmidt.

Corpus Christi evacuees Irma and Kevin Pogue arrived on Friday in San Antonio and found a motel they could stay in that would also allow their dachshund, Gizzmo, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported.

“This isn’t a dog. This is a child,” Kevin Pogue told the paper. “I’m not going to be separated from my child, it’s that simple.”

Reporting by Chris Kenning in Chicago; Editing by Frank McGurty and Sandra Maler