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Connecticut Humane Society Heads To Houston To Care For Pets Displaced By Harvey

A four-person team from the Connecticut Humane Society is flying to Houston for 10 days to assist pets displaced by Hurricane Harvey's devastation.

"Everyone is going to be pitching in wherever they're needed whether that's feedings or walking or spending time with the cats," Susan Wollschlager, marketing and communications manager for the Connecticut Humane Societysaid. "They're also going to be relieving some of the staff members in Texas who need to tend to their personal lives or need a break."

The humane society team joins a growing number of nonprofit and business groups that are in Texas in response to the storm.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, evacuees were told to leave their pets behind because there wouldn't be room for them in the evacuation centers. Many people abandoned their animals, while others refused evacuation to wait out the storm with their animal companions.

The following year, Congress passed a bipartisan bill to require Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to include pets and service animals in their disaster relief plans and as Texas recovers from Harvey, volunteers across the country are heading to the affected areas to lend a hand.

When they get there, volunteers like those from the Connecticut Humane Society are lending their skills to the makeshift veterinary clinics and animal shelters that have sprung up in the wake of the storm to house the animals displaced by the rising floodwater.

At the Connecticut Humane Society, a manager, two animal care employees and a veterinary tech are among those heading to Houston. They expected to go later in the month, but left Newington at dawn on Sunday.

"At first we were originally supposed to be going on Sept. 12 in the third or fourth wave of groups, but they moved us up. We didn't have a lot of time," Wollschlager said. "We were taking it day-by-day so we had to be flexible and we told staff members who were interested to be ready to go."

When the call came in on Saturday that the employees were scheduled to leave on a 7:30 a.m. flight from Hartford, the humane society sprang into action.

"We are so lucky to have staff members who were ready to drop everything and go out there," Wollschlager said. "And we know we might need to send another team in the future because recovery from these events is going to take a while."

In addition to sending a team to assist, Wollschlager said the Connecticut Humane Society is preparing to welcome 20 dogs to the Newington facility. Wollschlager said the dogs were expected to arrive Monday or Tuesday depending on traffic conditions over Labor Day weekend.

"We'll know about two hours before they arrive," she said. "We're taking them in because we have the space."

When the dogs arrive, Wollschlager said they will be treated for any chronic conditions or injuries they may have. They will eventually be available for adoption, but only once they have adjusted to their new surroundings.

"It is something we've done before and we've got kennels set up and our medical team is ready. The dogs will come in and get a once-over from the vet," she said. "They will be adopted out but it might not be soon because they'll need time to adjust."

Harvey has initiated a mass shuffling of thousands of shelter animals. Shelters are making room so that rescued pets can stay in their hometowns, increasing the chances that they will be reunited with their owners, who are displaced themselves, said Kenny Lamberti, vice president of the companion animals department of the Humane Society of the United States.

Animal rescuers, he said, are acting on the lessons learned during Hurricane Katrina, when abandoned animals were turned away from shelters that became too full and were not allowed in many human evacuation centers. Back then, volunteers from other states, though well-intentioned, took stranded pets with them to their home clinics, making it difficult for owners to find them, said Lamberti.

"The priority is keeping the rescued pets with their families," Lamberti said.

To support the affected animals, the Connecticut Humane Society is running a fundraiser at https://secure.give2gether.com/projects/teamwork-in-texas/.

Other Connecticut-based organizations including the American Red Cross, Save the Children, Americares, the Connecticut National Guard and the Beacon Falls Fire Department have also made the trip to Houston to help.

A Los Angeles Times report is included in this story.

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