The Ones Left Behind

Screenshot_20181011-080012~2.pngTrees and power lines knocked over, hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed, $125 billion in damages, and thousands of lives uprooted and floated away – this was Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in late August of 2017. Hurricane Michael is currently battering the Florida coastline, and while the damage has yet to be quantified in the same ways, it will certainly be extensive and life-altering for the residents of that area.

It’s not just human lives that are permanently changed by events like this. In the rush to evacuate during Harvey, dogs were left tied to trees in backyards, and back doors were left open so cats could fend for themselves during the coming disaster.

Thanks to the giant hearts of Dr. Lisa Newell and a large number of donors, I got to be part of a team that traveled to Houston in the wake of the hurricane to provide medical services to displaced animals. The rescue facility I spent most of my time in was a strip mall that had been hit hard by the economy, leaving it vacant and available to house the thousands of pets we saw.

The cats and the dogs were kept in separate buildings for some pretty obvious reasons. The cat building was an old bank with most of the cats in cages, and some of them wandering the rafters, eluding volunteers. Cages were stacked three or four high, and many of the cages had whole litters of kittens in them. The dog building was the hollowed out shell of a grocery store, and was nearly at capacity with kennels. There were droves of RV’s, vans, and trucks rotationally shuttling animals deemed “healthy” to neighboring towns outside the hurricane’s reach.

The ones that weren’t healthy enough to travel were kept in isolation areas as they had pneumonia, upper respiratory infections, contagious stomach viruses, skin parasites, lesions, and just about any other malady an animal can have. We walked them, fed them, and administered donated medications to the ones in need. Some of these animals had clearly been strays, and wandered the streets long before the hurricane, but many were apparently abandoned just recently.

One dog’s anxiety would’t let him rest. He’d cry incessantly unless he was in my arms. When I got called away to help other animals, the crying picked back up again. While I held and comforted him, I had to push away intrusive thoughts about what kind of life this dog might have when I left. Would he find a home? Would he find a family that would give him the love and attention he needed and deserved? Focusing too much on these questions made it impossible to stop tears from clouding my vision, so they had to be shoved down somewhere for long enough to keep me functional.

When the rains and the winds die down in Florida, we will undoubtedly find a similar situation. There will be thousands of pets in need of medical attention and – arguably more  importantly – love. Once the medical professionals have done their jobs, these pets need someplace to call home.

If you aren’t in a place to take in one of these pets, I implore you to find outfits like Austin Pets Alive, Houston Pets Alive, and Best Friends Animal Society, and donate time or money to aide them in their efforts. Trust me, it feels good knowing that you contributed to making the lives of these animals even marginally better, and if you could like into their eyes like I did, you’d know how much they sincerely appreciated it.

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