Two buses and a plane loaded with adoptable dogs and cats made the long journey from hurricane-ravaged southeast Texas to the Central Coast this week, as part of an effort to help alleviate overcrowding in Houston-area animal shelters.
The companion animals that wind up in shelters across the county were expected to leave Texas on Wednesday, said Sean Hawkins, Santa Maria Valley Humane Society executive director.
Both buses, which the Humane Society is chartering, will be driven straight through from Texas to California, with two drivers assigned to each vehicle. Veterinary technicians will also be on board to care for the animals during the transport, Hawkins said.
Santa Maria Valley Humane, Woods Humane and Santa Barbara Humane societies, the Animal Shelter Assistance Program and Santa Barbara County Animal Services are working collectively on the rescue response effort.
The five shelters have committed to accepting 47 cats, 38 litters of kittens and 90 adult dogs from Houston Animal Control, said Hawkins, who is coordinating the effort.
As part of the rescue operation, eight dogs arrived at the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society last week, and two of them have already been adopted. This week's arrival will be the bulk of the pets expected to be transferred from Texas to California. The plane will transport 80 of the dogs and cats.
"They are dealing with a catastrophe we can't even begin to imagine," Hawkins said about the situation in Houston, where it's estimated thousands of pets have been separated from their owners due to Hurricane Harvey. "We just don't understand the numbers."
Hawkins said the situation will be re-evaluated in a few weeks and if there's still a need for animals to be relocated out of Texas, a decision whether to bring additional dogs and cats to the local shelters will be made at that time.
Animals that were evacuated during the hurricane and could possibly be reunited with their owners will not be part of the rescue operation, Hawkins said, as no one is looking to create a situation in California where Texans are looking for their lost pets on the Central Coast.
"(Some) are animals where the owner specifically said, 'I need you to find a home for my pet,'" Hawkins said. "People are absolutely desperate. It's tragic."
He stressed no local animals will be displaced or euthanized to make room for the influx of animals from Texas, which are either dogs or cats that were already in shelters or pets surrendered because their owners lost everything in the hurricane.
To clear space at the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society, the shelter held an adoption promotion through Sunday.
The "$1 Per Pound Sale" applied to all adult dogs who were at the shelter before the massive storm hit Houston. Additionally, individuals were sent home with a pound of Purina dog food for every pound of dog adopted.
Adoptable pets can be viewed online at http://smvhs.org/adopt-pet.