It is an understatement to say that Central Texas has been devastated by fires this week. At this moment, a fire in Bastrop County (east of Austin) has consumed nearly 30,000 acres and 500 homes, and remains zero percent contained by heroic firefighters from all across the region. A fire destroyed dozens of homes in the Northwest Austin neighborhood of Steiner Ranch. Multiple fires are reported north of Austin and in Dripping Springs (south of Austin). It seems like fire is everywhere around us at the moment; there are literally scorched areas all along the highway as close as a quarter mile from my house.
Under these circumstances, anyone could be forgiven for staying home or even escaping town.
But the folks at Austin Pets Alive ain’t just anyone. No, when the little-non-profit-that-could (and the one largely responsible for making Austin, Texas, the nation’s largest “No Kill” community) got a call at 9pm on Sunday night that animals at the fire-threatened Bastrop Animal Shelter were at risk, they went to work.
Pleas went out on Facebook and by e-mail, and within half an hour on a holiday weekend’s Sunday evening, the shelter was packed with hundreds of volunteers. When more sane folks were fleeing the Bastrop fire, Austin Pets Alive organized a 9-car caravan of volunteers and employees to drive into Bastrop to rescue over 60 large dogs from the shelter— great dogs all, but some sick and elderly.
What transpired for the next several hours was simply remarkable. One by one, terrified dogs were loaded into vans and SUVs and driven to Austin, where a community of volunteers and employees were waiting to help them. Once they arrived at Austin Pets Alive, each dog got a caretaker to walk them through the vaccination, medical evaluation, intake, and (for some) fostering process. The dogs quickly learned that this was not a place where humans let you down; this was a place where humans lifted you up. This was a place of smiles, laughter, courage, leadership, and most of all, love and compassion for every animal.
That unforgivably “irresponsible public” that most animal shelters complain about came out in droves to help these animals. For the next 24 hours, people from all over the city lined up in the parking lot with donations of everything a sheltered animal could want— toys, beds, kitty litter, food (and more food), and cash for medical care as well. Austin Pets Alive asked the public for help, and the public delivered. In fact, nearly 100 dogs and cats were adopted from the facility— including most of the Bastrop shelter evacuees— within 24 hours of APA receiving that 9pm phone call Sunday night.
The work, of course, is not over. Austin Pets Alive is right now on its way to the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter, which is itself a compassionate and caring high-save-rate open-admission shelter being inundated with animals from fire-effected areas north of Austin. APA is saving both cats and dogs from the WilCo shelter to make room for evacuees and strays. The Austin Humane Society, we understand, is continuing to help fire victims in Bastrop, and Town Lake Animal Center too is becoming filled to the brim. Pets Alive (New York) has offered to take as many as 100 animals from the region to make room for more evacuated and loose animals, and we’re currently trying to line up transportation to save those lives.
There will be animals that die in these fires; no doubt about it. Dogs, cats, wildlife, and farm animals will perish, and homes are and will continue to be lost. This is catastrophic.
But with the love and compassion of the Austin animal-welfare community (and far beyond), hundreds and hundreds of lives will be saved that otherwise wouldn’t. For that, they deserve enormous admiration. Please volunteer, foster, adopt, or volunteer with Austin Pets Alive or another of the amazing non-profits working in our community. And please consider making a contribution to Austin Pets Alive in order to help them combat the ever-growing expenses of saving and caring for this many animals. Thank you, in advance, for your own compassion and generosity.