A group of volunteers from Toronto are heading to Houston next week to rescue adoption-ready dogs that are taking up much-needed space at facilities struggling to deal with an influx of displaced animals in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
Nicole Simone, of the advocacy group Redemption Dogs, says that four volunteers will take two supply-filled vans down on a 24-hour drive to the flood-ravaged city on Tuesday in order to rescue up to two dozen dogs that are already in Houston’s overtaxed animal shelter system.
Simone, who is staying in Toronto to coordinate things from here, says that the goal behind the trip is to free up space at rescue facilities for animals that have been displaced by the hurricane.
Houston already had one of the largest populations of stray dogs in North America prior to the hurricane, with an estimated one million homeless canines. Simone said that problem is much worse now.
“This has been a huge blow to a community there that was already struggling with an overpopulation problem,” she told CP24.com. “The hurricane just compounded everything that was already going on. It was a bad situation made worse by people losing their jobs, their homes and their ability to rescue dogs.”
Simone said that an animal rescue organization from Austin has taken several hundred animals from Houston shelters over the last 72 hours; however she pointed out that those animals “are not even the tip of the iceberg.”
She said that some people who went to shelters were initially turned away if they had pets and had to abandon them as result. Other people rescued by boat also had to abandon their animals in some cases.
The end result is a seemingly endless backlog of displaced animals and a shelter system that is literally bursting at the seams and is without the capacity to accommodate those animals, Simone said.
“It is extremely serious,” she told CP24.com. “The waters down there are alligator-infested and they have venomous snakes around.”
Simone said that the Toronto volunteers headed to Houston will be working with local rescue organization Hot Mess Pooches to identify dogs that were already in the shelter system prior to the arrival of Harvey and will not be taking animals that may have been separated from their owners due to the storm.
She said that the plan right now is for the volunteers to depart Toronto on Sept. 5 and return to the city with the dogs in tow about a week later. Simone has already partnered with a number of rescue organizations in Toronto, who have agreed to house the dogs once they arrive in the city, but she said that she is still looking for people to meet her volunteers in Buffalo and help them drive the dogs across the U.S. border. Restrictions at the border will prevent the volunteers from transporting all two dozen dogs back into Canada themselves.
“It really is a community effort,” Simone told CP24.com.
Scope of trip has widened
Simone initially recruited volunteers by putting out a feeler on Facebook and things progressed from there.
Initially, there was only plans to take one van down but now two vans, each with two volunteers, will be making the trip.
One of the volunteers, Tim Alamenciak, told CP24.com that he is not sure what to expect on the ground but imagines it will be a desperate situation.
“Shelters and rescues are stretched to their limits everywhere and having worked in rescues in Ontario I can’t imagine how shelters are coping with the influx of animals and increased need for care in Houston,” he said. “It must be so profoundly difficult.”
Alamenciak, himself the owner of a rescue dog, said he wanted to help with the situation in Houston but didn’t know how until he heard from Simone about the trip she was organizing.
He said that his experience with his own dog has helped him realize how important it is to find homes for other homeless animals.
“One of the things that really hits home when you rescue a dog is that this dog now has a good life whereas before it’s life was not so good. Being able to do that for an animal is such a great thing,” he said.
Redemption Dogs has set up a Go Fund Me Page to raise money for the trip and the expected cost of treating some of the animals for Heartworm, which is relatively common in the U.S. south and can cost $1,500 to $2,000 to have treated by a Toronto veterinarian.
As of Thursday morning, the Go Fund Me page had brought in $8,950.