Over the past decade, we at Austin Pets Alive! have served as a lifeline to pets in crisis, saving the lives of thousands of animals during floods, hurricanes, fires, and a variety of other weather-related events. Last weekend, as we watched the weather reports, our team knew from experience that Winter Storm Uri was going to be potentially devastating for people and animals. Earlier in the week, we proactively reached out to our rural shelter partners who operate year-round without heat and outdoor kennels, to get their pets to safety.
By Saturday, we had moved most of our APA! pets to foster homes and battened down the hatches at our shelter. We learned there were no local efforts planned to help people and pets during the crisis, so we gathered together and immediately enacted an emergency plan. Our goal: To help as many pets and people as possible in Austin and throughout Texas, while making sure the pets in our own facility were safe and sound.
With four million people out of power for days, a multi-day power outage at APA!, temperatures getting down to historically low single digits, as well as widespread loss of internet and cell phone receptions, we have faced a number of enormous challenges. Despite these obstacles, we have remained operational and available to help pets and people this entire time, largely due to donors all over the U.S. and the world and our local volunteers, foster caregivers, Good Samaritans, and dedicated staff. We cannot thank you enough for getting us through this past week’s winter storms.
Here are a few of the ways Austin Pets Alive! is helping animals and people impacted by this unprecedented winter weather:
1. Before the first storm hit we issued an urgent plea to the Austin community, asking for blankets, crates, food, space heaters, water, and generators. The outpouring of donations was almost overwhelming and we received enough to supply everyone who has reached out for our help. We were able to get many of these supplies distributed before the worst of the weather, which allowed outdoor pets to come in from the cold and ensured people had plenty of warm blankets for them and their animals.
2. We delivered food and blankets to three of Austin’s homeless encampments, where people and pets experiencing homelessness live. We wanted to make sure pet owners living in tents would have plenty of food for their pets in the coming days.
3. We built and are managing a peer-to-peer support network. We are facilitating connections between people who need help and those who are able to offer support. This Facebook group, called ‘APA! cold@ Emergency Response,’ has about 1,000 members after just four days and has been instrumental in helping dogs, cats, and dozens of other pets, including bunnies, birds, reptiles, and fish. Through this mutual aid system, we helped get vulnerable pets to warm homes, get injured animals to emergency veterinarians, find lost pets safe shelter, and to get food, supplies, and transportation help to people in danger from the bitter cold. This model is an example of community-based disaster response, inspired by our work leading the Human Animal Support Services movement.
4. We are providing all-day support and immediate response to people with emergency pet needs. Because the City animal shelter has been closed for the past six days, we knew it was critical for us to pivot to help all of the people with pet needs. We’ve been able to respond to hundreds of emails and have helped in every situation, from bunnies who ran out of hay to cats who had to get out of the cold and dogs who were found by a Good Samaritan and needed emergency foster placement.
5. We responded to early pleas from people who were trying to get help to the rescued sea turtles of South Padre Island as well as the animals housed at Primarily Primates sanctuary. Both organizations were largely cut off from power and APA! was able to help ‘connect the dots’ to get them access to heat sources and other help.
6. We are ensuring animals who are at risk of dying in shelters throughout Texas were scheduled to get to safety on transports and transfers. With roads mostly impassable for days, transports were halted earlier in the week, but having them scheduled and the animals ‘tagged,’ ensured adoptable pets were kept alive. These pets have started arriving in Austin and others are being scheduled for transports to our partner organizations in the days ahead.
How You Can Help: Over the coming days and weeks, we estimate there will be more than 5,000 animals who will need our help in Austin and beyond. We will need resources to not only continue to provide direct care services to our community, but also facilitate these life-saving transports from overwhelmed rural shelters. Our team is already fielding requests to pull animals from hard hit areas across the state and we continue to receive requests for help with food, bedding, water and supplies as so many are displaced from their homes. We are also evaluating the repair needs at our TLAC campus after pipes burst and infrastructure was damaged by snow and ice. Your donations will have an incredible impact and help us meet these challenges head on. Please visit www.austinpetsalive.org/donate to support this ongoing work.