ST. GEORGE — Biscuit the dog was romping and playing with another puppy and a couple of visitors at the PAWS animal rescue organization Monday afternoon, seeming blissfully unaware of the tragic circumstances that brought him from Texas to St. George.
Biscuit is among 15 dogs and two cats that PAWS — Providing Animals With Support — transported from Texas shelters in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Four of the organization’s staff and volunteers, including Operations Manager Lulu Hart, drove two vans on a more than 40-hour round trip to make the pickup, said Sabrina Todd, the nonprofit’s manager of fundraising and events. The pets arrived at the shelter Monday.
“All the animals that were in the [Texas] shelters before the hurricane needed to get out of the shelters to make room for the animals displaced by the hurricane … so that all the ones who were separated from their owners had a place to go and people could go and reunite with their dogs,” Todd said. “The people down there started reaching out to rescues and, of course, we wanted to take as many as we could, so we talked to our volunteers and everyone was willing to step up and take extra shifts and foster dogs.”
To make room for the Texas dogs, PAWS was able to find temporary accommodations for the dogs it was already sheltering. Typically, it houses about eight animals, slightly more if they are small animals and can share a kennel.
This was the first time PAWS participated in a rescue that involved a natural disaster, Todd said. In the past, however, the organization has sheltered pets rescued from hoarders.
The recent effort was spearheaded by the Humane Society of the United States, Austin Pets Alive and Kanab-based Best Friends Animal Society in advance of the arrival of Hurricane Harvey, Todd said. A staging area was established for animal-welfare organizations to meet and select pets to transport back to their locations.
Eric Rayvid, director of public relations for Best Friends, said that PAWS, as well as Because Animals Matter in Hurricane, have played important roles in the rescue effort.
“So far, Best Friends has networked more than 1,000 animals to our partner animal welfare organizations around the country, including our home state groups like PAWS of St. George,” Rayvid said.
“All of these groups have been incredibly helpful by opening their doors to guarantee a positive outcome for those pets. Best Friends has also provided thousands of dollars in grants to assist our partners in transporting these animals. Because of groups like PAWS and BAM we are able to help so many more animals.”
The PAWS team selected a variety of dogs with an eye toward what would work best for its shelter.
“We can’t do all giant dogs because we don’t have a lot of kennel space,” Todd said. “If you get all big dogs, that’s a lot walking, a lot of exercise. We love small dogs, but we try to keep a mix for everybody. We got some puppies, we got some middle-aged dogs, we got some one- and two-year-olds.”
There is also a mix of personalities among the dogs, apparent as shelter staff made the rounds in the boisterous atmosphere inside the shelter, handing out treats to the playful, the laid-back and the friendly new arrivals.
“Everybody is socialized and friendly,” Todd said. “All of them are really happy dogs.”
Todd predicted that the dogs will likely be adopted quickly. About a week before heading to Texas, PAWS let the public know its plans. The reaction was positive.
“We had a lot of people asking, ‘When can we see the dogs? Where are the dogs?’” she said. “They found out that they got here today, and we’ve already been getting phone calls and emails. I think a lot of people, they want to help. They want to adopt, they want to foster.”
In addition to immediate attention, PAWS has a series of adoption events scheduled for September, including “Dog Day Spectacular,” hosted by BAM on Sept. 9 at the Hurricane Community Center. Other events will be hosted by PetSmart and Lovin’ Arms Pet Center.
Although the number of dogs far outnumbered the cats from Texas, this wasn’t by choice. PAWS staff had intended to bring back more felines, Todd said, but there just weren’t that many. Other rescues were stocking up on them, in part because they are easier to shelter than dogs.
Staff members have already talked about making another rescue run to Texas; however, Todd said, the St. George shelter will still be carrying out its mission to rescue local pets.
“When the need is there, if we can help, we want to help,” Todd said.
Rayvid said he hoped people will support the efforts of local rescue organizations not only during these emergency times but also year round.
“And please,” he said, “adopt your pets from your local animal rescue groups and shelters.”
The PAWS shelter is located at 1125 W. 1130 North.