How Canadians Are Rescuing Homeless Dogs from Hurricane Harvey

One dedicated Canadian rescue won’t give up on the forgotten dogs of Hurricane Harvey.

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Dalmatian dog in field
Photo: Shutterstock

The Aftermath of Hurricane Harvey

S.A. was an hour away from death when he caught a lucky break.

Last summer, the four-year-old Dalmatian, named after his hometown of San Antonio, Texas, was suffering from a severe infection in both eyes when he was queued for euthanasia to clear up space at his shelter.

But every dog has his day. Luckily for S.A., Natalie Freschour of Hot Mess Pooches, a Texas dog rescue and sanctuary, recovered him in the nick of time. While his eyes were so damaged they had to be removed shortly after rescue, S.A. was lucky enough to find a foster home at the sanctuary during his long recovery.

Unfortunately, S.A’s struggle wasn’t over: in late August, that sanctuary was flooded after Hurricane Harvey pummelled Houston, leaving a city already grappling with an estimated one million homeless dogs unable to deal with the influx of displaced animals. Things looked dire for the disabled Dalmatian, who had virtually no chance of being adopted in Texas. He would need another miracle if he ever wanted to find a forever family.

Enter Redemption Paws, a Toronto-based animal disaster response group run by 32-year-old Nicole Simone, a long-time animal shelter volunteer. Since the storm the organization has completed two missions to Houston, successfully bringing 63 homeless pups, including S.A., into Canada, and giving them another shot at life.

Today the dappled darling spends his time cheerfully snuffling about Toronto with his newfound family. In order to give his name a Canadian twist, they’ve changed the spelling to Esseh. “He sleeps under the covers between my husband and I every night, and gives us non-stop kisses,” says his adoptive mom, Jackie Van Hoorn.

“He’s such a snuggle bug and even makes this cute little sound whenever he feels we’re not giving him enough attention. Some might say he’s needy, but we absolutely love it!”

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Hurricane Harvey
Photo: Parilov/Shutterstock

How Redemption Paws Was Born

While Esseh was a bit shy at first, Jackie and her husband, Paul, made sure to let him know he was safe and loved. “Within a week, he had mastered the floor plan of the house and knew each room and its purpose. It feels like he’s been with us forever,” says Van Hoorn.

Esseh is one of Redemption Paws’s many success stories. Simone founded the organization after listening to her close friend, Freshour, describe the horrific ways in which Harvey was impacting the shelter system in the state.

“A lot of rescues were flooded out, and a massive kill order was scheduled following the 30-day hold on lost and displaced pets.” says Simone.

Redemption Paws developed a mission: bring Houston shelter dogs back to Canada for adoption. On Aug. 29, 2017, Simone launched a GoFundMe campaign to cover the cost of the road trip, as well as any veterinarian care the rescued animals would need.

As of today, the grassroots campaign has raised close to $35,000 and successfully completed two missions to Houston. On their initial trip they brought back 42 dogs. Among them, Tilley, the chubby tri-coloured rat terrier mix described as a “butterball of love” and Scruffy, a deaf middle-aged Adelaide mix, with scraggly good looks and a charming demeanour.

Curtis Cluett, 29, a volunteer who participated in the first mission to Houston in September, says Redemption Paws worked closely with Hot Mess Pooches to identify dogs who were already in the shelter system prior to Harvey’s landfall, in order to avoid taking any displaced or lost pets.

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Elderly chihuahua
Photo: Shutterstock

Canadians to the Rescue

From Barney the blind senior Cockapoo, and 10-month-old Winnie, a deaf wirehaired lap dog, nearly 70 per cent of the animals Redemption Paws brought back are senior dogs or have disabilities. And while most have found their forever homes, about 10 dogs are still waiting for families to open their hearts, and their doors.

“We have one boy named Farley, a beautiful, white Shar Pei, purple tongue and all, who’s not received a single adoption inquiry,” says Simone. “He has neurological delay so he’s a little goofier than the other dogs…when you attempt to steer him clear of a pole, he’ll walk straight into it.”

Simone won’t give up on Farley though, and has been encouraged by the successful adoptions of dogs, such as Bo, a nine-year-old black lab who suffers from vision impairment and tested positive for heartworm, a parasitic roundworm that lives in the host’s heart. His family in Texas surrendered him after losing everything in the flood, and Simone knew that in Houston, Bo stood little chance of survival. Three weeks after arriving in Canada, however, Bo was adopted by a woman with a soft spot for Labs with disabilities.

Simone’s work wasn’t over. Redemption Paws returned to Houston Nov. 30 on a holiday mission to deliver supplies to people and pets, and to transport more needy dogs back up north.

“Since the flood, owner surrenders in Houston dramatically increased, and shelters won’t be rebuilt for at least a year,” explains Simone.

“It’s easy to get compassion fatigue, but we need people to keep helping, we need people to keep caring.”

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