During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, civic leaders and first responders learned a tragic lesson: People won’t leave their pets behind in disasters, particularly when emergency housing shelters enforce a no-pet policy. Sadly, this cost far too many pet owners their lives.

So, when Hurricane Harvey pounded parts of Texas in August, Houston officials announced that temporary shelters for evacuees would allow pets. Houston-based animal rescue Friends for Life took on the challenge of managing animal care at the George R. Brown (GRB) Convention Center, a “mega-shelter” that housed about 10,000 evacuees at its peak.

Friends for Life helps the SPCA of Brazoria County after Hurricane Harvey. In addition to running animal care at a “mega-shelter” for evacuees in Houston, Friends for Life helped this Lake Jackson, TX, shelter that was overflowing with animals after the storm.

Impressed with Friends for Life’s dedication and work, Alley Cat Allies provided the organization with an emergency grant to help fund their efforts. The group’s commitment to pets proved that animals can be sheltered with their families in disasters—and this undoubtedly saved lives.

On August 27, the day the GRB shelter opened, more than 700 animals came in with their families, says Megan Carpenter, Friends for Life communications coordinator. During the two-plus weeks that staff and volunteers manned the shelter, they cared for nearly 3,000 animals. Some 1,500 animals received free veterinary care (all provided by volunteer veterinarians) and supplies.

With the resources needed to care for the animals at the temporary shelter—not counting the 200-plus animals Friends for Life has taken in post-Harvey—Carpenter says her organization is grateful for Alley Cat Allies’ swift and generous support amid such devastating circumstances.

“Some people lost everything,” says Carpenter.

She adds that many evacuees expressed gratitude that their pets were safe and that they didn’t have to leave them behind. For one woman, the circumstances were somewhat reversed: It was her cat who possibly saved her life by warning her of rising floodwaters inside their home. Her 4-month-old kitten, Aurora, woke her in the middle of the night as their home became inundated. The woman and Aurora were rescued by boat and brought safely to the GRB shelter.

After their experience with Harvey, Carpenter says Friends for Life plans to write a manual for sheltering pets in disasters to serve as a model for future disasters.

Alley Cat Allies is proud our grant has helped with these efforts!