On Saturday, my cat program manager reached out to our team to see who'd be interested in volunteering to stay at a hotel near APA!’s Town Lake Animal Center (TLAC) campus. There was a winter storm on its way and they needed a skeleton crew to assist with onsite cat care for a couple of days. I was off and never in my life would I turn down a free hotel stay and some OT!
Being a reformed Yankee who's no stranger to winters lasting 4+ months/year, I jumped at the chance at staying in a cushy Hyatt room to help with caring for our purr-nuggets. Shortly after, I was tapped to join our emergency response task force to help with coordinating donations/ resources onsite and within the community, - comprising mostly of my professional heroes that I saw speaking at the AmPA! conference and I have engaged with in passing in Human-Animal Support Services (HASS) working groups. Under normal circumstances, this is the stuff I LIVE for!
Sunday went as well as it could have. Certainly, NOT THE WORST VALENTINE’S DAY I’ve ever had! Meetings at 9 am and 2 pm set for the rest of the week to check-in. The Emergency Response FB group was created to facilitate getting supplies hyper-locally distributed throughout the community. Kitties all fed, medicated, cleaned up, and set up with heating pads. After that was squared away by early afternoon, I hopped right into gathering donated supplies for residents brave enough to venture to TLAC to pick up litter, crates, and blankets for their neighbors.
At around 2 am Monday morning, the power went out. The campus was dark and we (a skeleton crew of about 2 people per team) rallied to care for the 120+ cats and dogs - most of us with limited to no cell phone service to communicate with our remote support teams or loved ones. We constructed forts out of the kitty shelving with towels draping over the enclosures to keep heat in. Later that day a water pipe burst, leaving us with yet another hurdle. Monday night, I arrived back on campus where generators had been set up to connect space heaters to all rooms containing our pups and kitties. Our faithful leader, Dr. J (nope, not calling her Ellen yet), her husband, and four good sams who braved the roads to bring supplies and stay to help with setup were the ones tackling this effort.
Tuesday, still without power but AT LEAST heaters in the animal rooms, it was bottled water being shared between the dogs, cats, and humans onsite. Outside was miserably cold and wet; I didn’t pack or prepare for this. People still were coming on-site needing supplies so that’s what needed to be done. A couple came onsite to donate bottled water and the woman asked what else our team might need. I VERY JOKINGLY offered a trade of a kitten for some dry socks or gloves. She gave me the gloves she was wearing and insisted that I take them. Another point for humanity.
Wednesday morning, we get the news….TLAC has power! And a smidge of flooding...but POWER, DANG IT! Some of the trees have fallen around campus and several tarps are torn...still no running water. On top of cat care and running supplies, I got to work alongside the amazing clinic squad to help with a bladder expression video for our amazing incontinent kitty fosters/adopters and delivering foster meds. This may not sound super glamorous, but learning what other teams know builds remarkable respect for their hustle. The med squad got to have a parvo pup slumber party at their hotel room. I’ve volunteered in the parvo ward for the past couple of months so I was quite jealous. We also got the hook up on a home-cooked vegan meal at the hotel that night. Something I promise to NEVER take for granted ever again.
Thursday, after wrapping up on cat care duties, I did a Facebook live on the current state of things on-site. Got photobombed by several kittens in the process. In collaboration with Deep Eddy Vodka, Lick It Up Street Tacos, and Feather’s Boutique we got a delivery of mouthwatering vegan burritos. Starting to feel a little human again! Donations still coming in and going out... the community has been inspirational. Another good samaritan came through with a couple of warm trays of cheesy bread bites just as someone else was bringing in two 3 day old kittens that they had found.
Friday, I checked in with the clinic crew about the state of the kittens. It turns out that they had a nursing mom also in their hotel room who instantly welcomed them as surrogates. Joy doesn’t cover the feeling that overcame me that morning. This is truly the inspiration that makes this messy nightmare of a week worthwhile. In the afternoon, plumbers donated their time to help get the water running onsite again. I was relieved of my onsite duties as other staff/volunteers were able to join the charge at TLAC. 1.2K members on the Facebook group and 800+ emails for donation assistance later, it was time to pack up and finally go home.
We can't thank Lucy enough for her amazing dedication to Austin Pets Alive! and for making sure the cats stayed safe and warm. We are humbled by all of our staff, volunteers, and community members that helped us brave the cold weather crisis. Our mission isn't possible without every single one of their help. To everyone that came to our aid, from the very bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU!