Chicago volunteers returned from Houston Sunday with nearly four dozen pets left homeless in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, giving them a temporary home at a Southwest Side animal shelter.
The 43 dogs, cats, puppies and kittens were given up by their owners in Texas. After three days and two nights in Houston, PAWS Chicago volunteers piled the animals into three vans and started the trip home.
“It wasn’t because they no longer wanted their animal, it was because they no longer had a home,” said Mark Lukas, one of the volunteers who made the trip to Houston. “They went from upset and tearful to, ‘Oh my goodness, this is great. My dog is going to be better off than I am.'”
Lukas, 48, a PAWS volunteer for 12 years, said the trip was filled with mixed emotions.
“I get choked up, because it was beautiful,” Lukas said.
While the owners gave their pets up for good, volunteers took their contact info and plan to keep owners in the loop about where the animals go next.
Now that they’re in Chicago, PAWS will care for the animals, fewer than five of which are healthy, according to PAWS founder Paula Fasseas.
Fasseas, who opened the shelter 20 years ago, flew into Houston on Thursday and returned on Saturday. She said many of the animals have medical concerns from upper respiratory problems to heartworm to skin diseases.
Once the animals are treated onsite and medically cleared, they’ll be available for adoption.
While the group’s generosity saved dozens of animals, it was the good deeds of strangers that made the trip’s success possible.
On their way to Houston, a handful of social media users directed the volunteers to gas stations that still had fuel, Lukas said. Many stations had run out of gas in the days before, during and after the hurricane.
Once they arrived in Houston at 5 p.m. Friday, a restaurant full of customers gave the owner money to pay for the volunteers’ dinner.
And on the way back to Chicago, when one of the vans was damaged by debris on the highway, a man in a pickup truck pulled over and used his tools to help the van get back on its way.
Lukas said he hopes to make another trip to Houston in the next two or three weeks.
“I think I probably did a great job at helping Starbucks,” Lukas said, he probably only sleeping six hours in four days. “Had a lot of coffee.”
Anyone wanting to adopt an animal can go to PAWSChicago.org or call (773) 935-7297 for more info.