Many Animals Remain Homeless Four Months After Memorial Day Flood
By Megan Dolan
WIMBERLEY — Two brown goats wander down Wimberley’s River Road. They pause and watch cars pass before continuing on their way. Fallen trees litter the roadside. Those still standing have been tilted permanently by rushing water. Nearby, the blue-green Blanco River flows calmly. No one has claimed the goats since the epic flood that swept through Central Texas four months ago.
Twenty-seven people died in the Memorial Day flood, and two children are still missing. The torrent did more than $80 million in damage, according to city and county authorities, damaging or destroying 2,200 homes. This Hill Country town of about 2,500 was the epicenter of the disaster with 12 deaths and damage to more than 1,000 homes worth $15.6 million.
As Wimberley deals with displaced families and property repairs, some of its residents are trying to make sure that the town’s hundreds of homeless animals – from goats to domestic pets – aren’t forgotten. It’s a recurring problem that South Carolina is facing after the inundation there.
Sonja Heryford, the 70-year-old founder and director of Wimberley’s Animal Referral Services, a rescue group for cats, requires a walker to get around. She moves slowly, but she continues to round up lost felines and take them to her home. “We assume a great deal of cats lost their lives,” Heryford says, and after four months, none of the 20 or so orphaned cats she’s sheltering has found the way home.
“It’s horrible to say,” Heryford says.
ARF operates out of a two-bedroom mobile home where Heryford and a few other volunteers care for the found cats. She says the number of cats they’ve taken in since the flood is stretching ARF’s ability to house them over the long term.
“It’s a sanctuary because they’re not being adopted, and there are a couple of them that are, I’d guess, 15 years old and they’re just going to live there until they die,” Heryford says.
Wimberley Animal Group, a local rescue group that handles wayward dogs, is facing similar hurdles.
“Once we find them, we do our best to find their owner,” says Debbie Nordyke, 60, director of WAG. “But 95 percent of our dogs are found dogs that no one ever claimed.”
WAG doesn’t have a facility to house the 20-plus dogs it’s now handling. It puts dogs into foster homes and tries to place them permanently. Nordyke says the group is looking for space to board the dogs. Meanwhile, its volunteers operate from a retail consignment store in an old bungalow.
“You have dogs running loose who are not spayed and neutered or vaccinated, and you’re really hurting the community,” she says. “You’re going to have dogs that become aggressive, and that’s the type of dog, when they’re running loose, that’s going to turn around and bite somebody or bite a child.”
Local civic organizations are focused mainly on human recovery, but they are giving financial support to the two organizations.
“People who lost their homes, they don’t have a home for themselves, much less their pets,” says Linnea Bailey, 68, a member of Wimberley’s Lions Club. The club has raised more than $20,000 for flood relief, and has given $11,000 total to ARF and WAG in the past year.
Nordyke says she understands that people come first, but she thinks animals should join them.
“Yeah, there are a lot of important things in the world,” she says. “I’m not saying it’s more important, but it is just as important. They can’t speak for themselves.”
Wimberley was hardest hit by the Memorial Day rains, but the same scene with lost pets played out across Central Texas.
“Absolutely the community was affected by the flood,” says Austin Pets Alive! marketing manager Amanda Potter-Laycock.
That organization and the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter posted Facebook entries showing their flooded shelters. The Williamson County shelter reported it took in 689 animals within a month of the flood, more than twice the usual number of adoptions in a month, leaving the shelter at “critical capacity.”
Jamie Klein, 26, a graduate student in public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, says the flood convinced her to adopt the foster dog she was keeping for Austin Pets Alive!. Klein and Naya, a female pit bull, waded through the quickly rising waters of Waller Creek as they sought to escape the flood.
“We went through the creek, which was up to my waist,” Klein says. “I waded. She swam. The water must have been going 30 mph, and we’re walking through the current. It was the only option we felt like we had.”
Klein had fostered three other dogs, but she decided to keep Naya that day.
“I had no intention of keeping her before that,” Klein says. “It was an experience we had been through together, and I think really bonded us as dog and owner. At that point, there was no way I was going to give her up.”
Back along the Blanco, the goats and other assorted livestock are making their own way until their owners find them or someone claims them.