Rounding up pets large and small animal rescue groups aid Texas tornado recovery

'When there is a human need, there is also an animal need'

Crawling under a house to get a dog with puppies, mending fences, wading through a flooded pet store in darkness are a few snapshots of the Texas animal rescue community's work since the tornado outbreak this week.

More than 30 tornadoes crashed through the Lone Star State early this week, wreaking havoc for humans and their four-legged companions. 

Natural disaster response can take weeks or even years, but pets and livestock can be lost in the immediate aftermath, and reuniting them with their owners is the No. 1 priority. However, if an animal's human has lost their home, as many did during the recent outbreak, it means there are also homeless pets.

"When there is a human need, there is also an animal need," President of Animal Investigation & Response Monica Ailey said.

Animal Investigation & Response (AIR) is a Texas nonprofit that works with municipalities and local governments in the storm's immediate aftermath. On Wednesday, the group was called out to Upshur County, Texas, to help its furry and feathered tornado victims.

According to the National Weather Service in Shreveport, an EF-2-rated twister ripped threw Upshur with maximum winds of 135 mph. The NWS has confirmed five other tornadoes in the surrounding area. 

On Thursday, Ailey spoke to FOX Weather from Gilmer, Texas, where her team is working to secure pets and searching for others animals. By Thursday morning, the team had set up a temporary shelter at the local livestock grounds in Gilmer.


Ailey explained AIR sets up an area like this after a disaster "to receive animals that are whose homes were affected if someone lost their home or their homes were damaged .. until their families get back on their feet." They also provide food and some pet supplies like leashes. 

AIR primarily deals with domestic animals and small livestock. In a storm like the tornado outbreak, fences, barns and other containment are often damaged leaving livestock scattered about. For the bigger animals, the group will mend fences and create temporary enclosures as needed.

"We were just helping loose cow down the road," Ailey said. "Put her back in and fixed the fence for them."

Meanwhile, another team was working to get to a dog with puppies under a house. Ailey said the homeowner's daughter contacted AIR because their father was worried about his dog. 

"Everything around him is devastated, but his house is still standing, and his dog is under the house with puppies," she said. "He doesn’t have power to the area and he wanted to make sure that his dog is OK."


On Monday night another tornado damaged the roof of the PetSmart in Round Rock outside of Austin, causing the whole store to flood. Staff with Texas Humane Heroes waded through floodwaters in near darkness to rescue the adoptable pets inside.

"One of our team members, Brie Brehm, brought our van over there, and they got all the dogs relocated," Texas Humane Heroes marketing manager Sam Rogers said via email. "They did this in the dark and standing in water. All the animals made it safely to PetSmart Cedar Park."

Five tornadoes have been confirmed by the NWS office in Austin and San Antonio.

Among the first reports of serious damage from the severe weather came out of Jacksboro, Texas Monday night. The local high school gym was devastated and the Jacksboro Animal Shelter was badly damaged.

The NWS later confirmed an EF-3 tornado touched down in Jack County near Jacksboro with maximum winds between 140-150 mph.

Kay Wlodarek with Tall Tails Rescue and Transport told FOX Weather the organization rescued 11 dogs from the damaged animal shelter and took the pups to Live Oak Animal Hospital in Springtown. Five of the dogs have owners, four of those will be going home. 

"It was kind of hard getting there," Wlodarek said, adding power lines were down and debris was blocking roadways.

"There was no shelter, there was no roof. Their pens were just smashed together," she said. "It's amazing that the dogs survived."