After Hurricane Harvey, Randa stepped out of her Baytown, Texas, trailer and saw the houses down the street almost completely underwater. The following day, she found 11 community cats gathered around her property, in addition to the four she already feeds. Displaced by Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters, these cats sought the nearest dry area. Randa knew they needed her, and she made a commitment to feed them with support from the local animal rescue organization A Life to Live.

Over the years, we’ve helped cats in natural disasters and caregivers like Randa. One thing we’ve seen on the ground repeatedly are groups helping caregivers, as well as rescue work conducted by people unaffiliated with any organization—ordinary individuals who see an animal in need and take the initiative to respond compassionately.

In another incredible Harvey story, a photographer found a dog chained to a telephone pole in Victoria, Texas. As floodwaters rose around the dog, the photographer freed him from the chain and took him to safety. In Austin, residents searched for injured squirrels who had been blown out of trees by hurricane-force winds. This is the same spirit we saw from volunteers in response to Hurricane Harvey. I believe it is something that exists in all community cat caregivers.

Community cat caregivers are good Samaritans who see cats and communities in need. They roll up their sleeves to help. They make sure community cats, part of the fabric of our society, undergo Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), the process by which cats are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and returned to their outdoor home. They also work to ensure cat-friendly policies are in place at their local shelters and in their communities, and address community concerns about cats so people and cats can peacefully coexist.

Our Feral Friends Network is made up of incredible individuals and organizations around the world who protect and improve the lives of cats in their communities. These people are on the ground every day, serving as resources for community cat caregivers, and advocates in their neighborhoods. They see a need that must be fulfilled and they act with compassion.

From their flooded homes, our Feral Friends in Texas kept in constant contact, monitored social media to assess people’s conditions, and lined up fosters for displaced pets. Deana Sellens, executive director of Texas Litter Control (TLC), put the well-being of the animals in her spay/neuter clinic before everything else. Once she ensured their safety, she recruited volunteers and began working to restore her destroyed clinic. Although the clinic is currently closed and may be for months, Deana plans to open it soon. She wants to assist animals again as soon as possible.

We also must not forget the organizations who came to the rescue, including Austin Pets Alive!, the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, the Humane Society of the United StatesBest Friends Animal Society, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, local humane societies and SPCA groups, and shelters and airlines who worked to transport animals across the country to make room for displaced animals in Texas facilities.

But we can’t only rely on these groups. Where would that dog chained to the telephone pole be if the photographer hadn’t helped him? Your actions matter for animals. to The Morning EmailBottom of Form

Especially during disasters, but also in our daily lives. We must be the kind of humans who help others. You can do it. We can support you.

Be the person who spearheads a lifesaving Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program on a college campus planning to remove its community cats.

Be the person who opens his or her local business to people with animals seeking shelter during a hurricane.

Be the person who offers to transport or foster animals displaced by a natural disaster.

Today and every day, we must step up when others—humans and animals—are in need.

In the coming weeks and months, after the flooding and emergency rescues have ended, the people and animals affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma will need our support to rebuild their communities. Community cat caregivers will require immediate resources, including pet food, medicine, and other supplies, as well as help caring for cats displaced by the storm.

There are animals in shelters across the country who need us. By fostering or adopting an animal from your local shelter, you will be helping the Hurricane Harvey and Irma relief efforts. Adopt-a-Pet.com has launched Foster a Hurricane Pet for people looking to find temporary homes for their animals, as well as people looking to foster an animal impacted by the hurricanes.

Then there are long-term goals. They include implementing lifesaving policies for animals in communities and local animal shelters. The fact is, many more cats are killed in shelters than die in natural disasters.

Please keep the cats you care for safe with Disaster Tips and Disaster-Proofing a Community Cat Colony. These resources have information on disaster preparation and response, including items that will be useful to animals and their caregivers. September is National Disaster Preparedness Month. There is no better time to put lifesaving policies into place for your household.

Please be safe out there. Help your neighbors. Help strangers.


This post was originally published in the Huffington Post on September 11. 2017.