MHS Responds to Calls for Help from Houston
Thursday, Sept. 25
Today brought a mixture of raw emotions. Returning residents were grateful, relieved, exhausted, distraught and, in some cases, plain lost. Emotions ran high at the shelter as well. We were happy for those pets who were reunited with their families; we were sympathetic for those same families who lost so much. We listened to their accounts of how they evacuated and what they found when they returned. Many lost nearly everything. But, the smiles, tears and happy sounds of children who spotted their pets, safe and sound, lifted all our spirits. And, the excited barks, wagging tails and rumbling purrs from the animals as they, too, recognized their families were a delight.
The MHS team was advised that it was our turn to leave and a replacement team was en route. So, we worked through the morning in the field and in the shelter facility. After lunch, we packed and cleaned our camp site and pulled out of Galveston Island about 4 p.m. Disaster response is emotionally and physically extreme. But, leaving when you know there is so much yet to be done, I think, is hardest of all. I am confident there is little animal rescue left to do, but there is much to be done to help shelter animals and provide necessary resources to so many people who need so much, lost so much, and are doing the best they can for the pets they love.
We made it all the way to Texarkana, Arkansas before stopping for the night. We bring with us the memories of the people we met, the destruction we saw, and the animals we cradled. We left behind people who are forever grateful that Michigan Humane Society was there for them in their most desperate time. So, on behalf of the animals and residents of Galveston Island... THANK YOU for supporting our rescue team! We'll be home soon!
Wednesday, Sept. 24
The Island proved to be hectic today with the return of the residents. There is still no power to most of the Island and that means no stop lights.
We had about 100 animals reclaimed between the Houston SPCA and the Island site and expect more Thursday. One dog brought in from the field appears to have suffered a snake bite, so the vet on-site is keeping a close eye and will likely transport him to Houston for more comprehensive care.
Rescue teams are still working in the field and feeding and watering as many animals as they can. If it appears that no resident has returned or is caring for the animals, the rescue teams are removing them. Late Wednesday an elderly resident stopped by the shelter site with her two cats. She had evacuated with them, but returned to find her home completely destroyed. She was going to be spending the night at a human shelter and could not take the cats. We boarded them for the night and she will return Thursday for them. They are all she has left and she hated to leave them with us, but she knew we would get them settled in and care for them. They are her family. She has not spent a night away from them before so it was a tearful "good night." Residents are grateful to us all and to all of you back home that have allowed this effort.
We continue to rehab the building as best we can so it can be a sanitary, operating animal shelter facility. It is grueling work, but necessary.
Tuesday, Sept. 23
Today was a day of not only caring for the animals still at the temporary shelter facility and receiving those rescued from the field, but also a day of trying to ready this building for the Galveston Island Humane Society to operate their shelter here for the next 12 months. The ceiling tiles in these rooms sustained a lot of damage and insulation and ducts are hanging from the ceiling like oxygen masks on a plane. So, there is still much to be done, but we are making progress. Once the rooms are ready, we will set up crates in each room so animals can be comfortably sheltered here.
Residents are allowed back on the Island on Wednesday and we expect hundreds, if not thousands, of people to come here looking for their animals and/or pet supplies. A Texas State Trooper is now stationed here to help with crowd control and traffic. Rescue teams are back out in the field and have loaded their trucks with pet supplies to also distribute to residents in need.
There is still no running water, but some power has been restored. The power grid has apparently been repaired so as the city powers up, the possibility of fires is great. Flooded homes have salt water in the electrical outlets, meter boxes, breakers. This is a big concern. The plan is to power up the big businesses first, then the small businesses, and then residents.
There are still no operational medical facilities on the Island, but a number of EMS responding teams are stationed at the airport which has become “command central” for thousands of responders from all over the country. We gather there in a large mess tent side-by-side allowing us to eat a good dinner, recap the day, and meet new friends. It is about a 15 minute drive to the airport - well worth it. It’s comforting to see so many people who have come together to help this beaten, but not defeated, Island.
By the time we get back to the compound, it is about 8:30 p.m. and we are ready to call it a day so we can be ready for what the next day brings.
Sunday, Sept. 21
Our first day on Galveston Island was hot, humid and surreal. Once we made our way across the causeway, the debris included boats tossed like toys; power poles snapped in half and lines down; splintered piles of lumber that used to be homes, and all kinds of appliances and home furnishings. Amazingly, right across from massive destruction, palm trees stood with little or no visible damage.
Debrief meetings are held every morning at 7:00 with the animal care workers and the rescue teams. Rescue teams are dispatched to addresses known to have animals inside--owners are calling a hotline to advise where the animals are, what they are, and how long they may have been without food and water. Rescue teams have been advised to bring in every animal they can. Residents are not yet allowed on the island, and animals left to fend for themselves are in dire conditions. In the beginning, teams were simply putting out food and water, but with residents still gone, the animals must be brought in.
On Saturday, the sheltering site took in cats, dogs, birds, snakes, Madagascar cockroaches, ferrets, hamsters and some wildlife. Most animals brought in stay on the island only overnight and are then transported to Houston SPCA for far better facility conditions. Some animals on the island have been reclaimed by residents who stayed behind, but lost their pets. Each animal brought in gets an ID number and has its photo taken for the Houston SPCA website. Then he or she is given shots, food and and is crated for his or her short stay at the sheltering site.
Sanitation is a big problem since there is still no power on the island. Potable water is hauled in in water pigs, and fans in the building are run off thundering generators. Each crate and dish must be cleaned after an animal is put on the transport truck, so mixtures of bleach and water fill tubs near the back of the sheltering building. Once cleaned, the crates are left to dry in the sun, which is blazing hot, and then placed back in the shelter cat room or in the hallways for the dogs. The cat room includes cats, domestic and wild birds, pocket pets and other delightful creatures like the cockroaches.
More than 500 animals have been transferred off Galveston Island to Houston SPCA for temporary shelter in hopes they will be reclaimed by returning residents.
Sunday's debrief was clear but simple: Be safe, be respectful of your coworkers. Tensions can run high due to conditions and frustrations with feeling like there should be more you can do. Essentially, this site is a MASH unit… get them in, get them as comfortable as you can and get them ready to get out.
The Salvation Army came through the site yesterday wth hot lunches. A treat to be had! Few businesses are open on the Island and there is a 6:00 p.m. curfew for those that are open. Each team here brought cases and cases of drinking water, but it is going fast.
Friday, Sept. 19
After spending the night in Texarkana, TX we awoke to find our vehicles surrounded by large tree trimming trucks out of Dayton, Ohio. Nearly 20 trucks were pulled in to the motel parking lot. Chatting with a few of the gentlemen confimed that they too were headed for the Houston area - mostly the rural area with the tall pines and hardwoods. East Texas is home to the Piney Woods and the Davey Crockett National Forest...lots of logging. Trust us - these tree trimmers have their work cut out for them!
We got on the road early again knowing there were people eagerly awaiting our arrival in Houston. We were advised that gas was getting hard to come by, so we stopped just outside Lufkin and filled our trucks and eight 5-gallon gas cans to carry with us. We tried a few stations before we actually found one with gas. We were back on the road and into Houston in no time. Our instructions were to check in at the Houston SPCA building with Incident Commander Kay Mayfield from Code 3.
We made our way through Houston traffic on I-610 West and arrived at the Houston SPCA by 4:00 p.m. Debby MacDonald (MHS) checked in with Kay Mayfield for our assignments and we were advised that we would be going to Galveston Island Saturday morning with a Code 3 caravan. We were debriefed on the conditions on the Island by Kurt Cruckshank of Code 3.
We were advised that the public is still not allowed onto the island. There is no running water; no electricity; no sanitation, and we should be very watchful for various kinds of snakes, insects and rats. Not all the teams that are here can be self-sufficient or self-sustaining. We brought ample supplies that afford us the ability to fend for ourselves for a time. Support from the community is critical in us being outfitted properly... so, thank you to all of you who have generously donated to this effort.
There are approximately 30,000 residents who stayed on the island. There is no way to know how many have been rescued or evacuated and how many are still there. Those who are still there are in bad shape. And, responders are finding bodies. The west end of Galveston Island is accessible only by helicopter and it is proving very difficult to reach, and therefore, assess the needs.
The make-shift animal shelter on the island is an old police annex. Kurt from Code 3 described it like this: "If it doesn't fall down around us before we are done here, we'll be lucky." In order for us to enter the Island, our vehicles will be identified as "Official Galveston Island Vehicle" and "Disaster Animal Relief Team." We have all been photographed and have new Disaster Animal Relief badges. These must be worn at all times. We do not yet know our full assignments, but it is likely that three of us will help shelter in the annex for animals waiting to be transported to the SPCA building and three will likely be in the field performing rescue and/or feeding on site.
There is no ability to keep the animals on the island for a sustained amount of time, so those who are rescued are temporarily held at the annex building until tranport is arranged.
We are camping for the night at the Houston SPCA near the horse stalls. We had Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) for dinner and discovered that they are not half bad. Of course, some people think a root canal isn't half bad either. I am very happy that we also brought crackers, apples, tuna, protein bars and peanut butter. Now that sounds like a buffet fit for a king!
Thursday, Sept. 18
Our 1300 mile journey started yesterday with good people, good mental attitudes, trust in each other, humor, and the rewiring of our van. Our team drove until 12:30 a.m. when we pulled into Sikeston Missouri. As we stopped for gasoline along the trip, we made friends in each place. We left each stop with their gratitude, their thoughts and prayers for our team and the work that lay ahead.
We are all grateful to MHS staff, volunteers and supporters for letting us serve in their honor to help animals in dire need once again, and we send the gratitude of those we have met, and will meet, to everyone back home.
We expect to make it to Texarkana, Texas before stopping for the night. We should arrive in Houston mid-morning on Friday, 9/19 as scheduled. We have been advised we will be replacing one team from SPCALA, but we are not sure yet of the actual assignments that await.
Wednesday, Sept. 17
The Michigan Humane Society animal rescue team, comprised of six members, departed for the Houston, Texas area.
Monday, Sept. 15
The Michigan Humane Society was one of just a handful of animal welfare organizations that were specifically requested by the Houston SPCA to assist in the significant animal rescue efforts associated with Hurricane Ike, an enormous system that began pounding Texas on Saturday, September 13. Responding to the call, an MHS emergency response team prepared to depart Detroit for the Houston area within 24-48 hours. With situational assessments and rescue efforts still in the preliminary phase, the details of MHS’ role in the relief efforts are yet to be determined; however, the team of six experienced responders are prepared to do whatever is necessary.
MHS experience in major emergency response - as highlighted by on-site animal relief efforts during hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as the organization’s commitment to being at the leading edge of disaster preparedness and training - make it a major ally to other humane groups in times of need. These efforts are made possible by the generosity of the organization’s supporters and the commitment of its staff.
These current relief efforts come on the heels of MHS’ response to the needs generated by Hurricane Gustav, whereby MHS accepted the transfer of 48 dogs evacuated dogs from the Louisiana SPCA in New Orleans.
Please be sure to bookmark this page, as the MHS emergency response team will be posting regular updates.