Hurricane Ike was about as mighty and destructive as they come, but it couldn't break the bond between Nora Smallwood and her two dogs.
“They're my life,” the 78-year-old said after being evacuated from her home in La Marque, near Galveston. “There was just no way I was going to leave them.”
Luckily, she didn't have to. She usually visits Honey and T.T. twice a day, riding a city bus to the Austin Humane Society from her shelter at the convention center.
Like Smallwood, hundreds along the Gulf Coast evacuated with their pets before hurricanes Gustav and Ike roared ashore this month – unlike in Katrina in 2005. Many Louisiana residents were not allowed to take pets on buses, causing more anguish. Others refused to leave their animals behind, and perished with their pets.
That led to the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, passed by Congress in 2006 to make sure state and local governments help pets during a major disaster or emergency. Texas passed a similar law last year.
“This act is not only saving pets' lives – it's saving human lives,” said Scott Haisley, senior director of emergency services for the Humane Society of the United States, which supported the federal law.
Officials in cities across Texas say housing the furry, feathered and scaly loved ones of evacuees has for the most part gone well.
Health regulations prohibit the creatures from living in the same rooms as people, so some cities provide transportation so evacuees can visit their pets at animal shelters. That gives them something to do and makes them feel better during a time of upheaval, officials said.
Evacuees staying at the Dallas Convention Center can play and cuddle with their pets at another area of the complex just across the street.
“We get a lot of hugs from folks with tears in their eyes,” said Kent Robertson, a division manager with Dallas animal services. “Their homes have been destroyed, and they don't know what they're going to do, but they have a place for their animals.”