Devastating floods swamp Houston-area veterinarians

Louisiana braces for rain as shelters take in displaced animals

August 28, 2017 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

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Update, 8/29: Officials report that 17 veterinary practices in Texas are closed and seven others are operating with skeleton crews. Emergency shelters have taken in at least 375 animals, a population that's predicted to increase once flood waters recede and allow greater access to disaster areas. 

A crisis is unfolding at Houston-area animal shelters and veterinary practices as the city and surrounding communities battle rising rivers and flood waters in the wake of Harvey, which made landfall late Friday as a Category 4 hurricane.

Harvey, now a tropical storm, unloaded two feet of rain on the waterfront city over the weekend and is on a slow march toward Louisiana, where emergency veterinary personnel are dispatched. Flood waters continue to rise in Houston and its suburbs. At least seven people have died in flooded areas.

The Buffalo Bayou in Houston reportedly flooded Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists and its adjacent emergency clinic, which is featured on Nat Geo Wild's reality show "Animal ER."

A post on the practice's Facebook page shared that winds and heavy rains ravaged the facility at 1111 West Look South, which is surrounded on three sides by the bayou. It's unknown whether all animals housed in the facility were evacuated.

Dr. Natalie Antinoff, an avian specialist with the practice, said by email that a lot is still unknown.

"We had to evacuate to keep everyone safe due to rising water in the building," she said. Damage assessments won't happen until they can safely return, she added.

A four-hour drive south of Houston is Rockport, where Dr. Kimberly Harrell cautiously celebrates that her home and practice are still standing, minus the practice's sign, which blew away.

"I do not know if there is water in the clinic and how much damage may be inside," she said on Facebook. "… I am very concerned that the clinic will not be able to fully service animals right away, and it could be a long time."

Harvey, experts say, is on pace to become one of the strongest storms to hit the United States in more than a decade. With evacuations under way, some area animal agencies are hunkered down. The Houston SPCA has suspended regular services. The same goes for classes at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine in College Station.

Two groups with the Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team were dispatched on Friday to hard-hit areas, reported Dr. Wesley Bissett, the team's director. "There are shelters being put up inland, away from the coastal communities," he said at the time. "We have initial equipment ready to go. Whether we deploy more depends on how bad it is."

Some of those emergency workers have since been reassigned to Fort Bend County in support of the Federal Emergency Management Association.

Dr. Leslie Easterwood, a clinical assistant professor with Texas A&M, explained to a local news station that the Veterinary Emergency Team has a dual purpose. "We support Task Force 1 and their search dogs, and that's our primary, first importance," she said. "And then we move on and set up there, as well, to take any kind of refugee animals that come in, with or without owners."

Several Gulf Coast humane societies are sheltering displaced and rescued animals from the storm.

The SPCA of Texas, headquartered in Dallas, reports housing 123 unowned cats from a Corpus Christi shelter facility. The Dallas County Animal Response Team is picking up storm evacuees and sending them to the SPCA of Texas and other shelters.

Shannon Sims of the San Antonio Animal Care Service said the agency has taken in 200 displaced animals and is expecting many more as flood-area residents evacuate. The organization is accepting donated supplies such as newspaper, litter, crates and pet food. Items can be dropped off at the shelter, located at 4710 State Highway 151 in San Antonio.

Dr. William Folger, owner of Memorial Cat Hospital, is traveling and trying to get back to Houston. While his home and practice are OK, he expressed concern about colleagues in the area. "We are in a bad situation in Houston. Very much like Katrina, maybe worse," he said.

Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in August 2005, and displaced as many as 250,000 dogs and cats during evacuations. Another 150,000 or so pets died during the storm and its aftermath. 

VIN News Service reporter Phyllis DeGioia contributed to this article.

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