JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Animal shelters in Texas are now bursting at the seams as rescuers continue to bring in animals who were separated from their families during Hurricane Harvey.

Thanks to a local group of volunteers who made the trek from Jacksonville to Houston and back over Labor Day weekend, they have helped to alleviate the problem.

Florida Urgent Rescue is keeping two dogs, St. Francis Animal Hospital is keeping five dogs, Nassau County Humane Society is keeping five dogs, Flagler County Humane Society is keeping two dogs, Helping Hounds is keeping two and Pit Stop Pit Bull Rescue Transport is keeping one dog.

Not only did these organizations bring 17 dogs back, but they also brought out supplies and food to the shelters in Houston.

“We saw an emergency situation and we wanted to help,” said Mike Merrill, the founder and president of Florida Urgent Rescue, or FUR, a non-profit focused on saving animals from small, rural shelters with small budgets and no veterinarians on staff, like Putnam and Bradford Counties. This Labor Day, they decided to take their labor of love nearly 1,000 miles west to Texas.

“The problem is the shelters were already full, and they are bringing in hundreds of strays and those strays had nowhere to go, so the only way they can bring a stray into the shelter is to kill a dog who is already in the shelter,” Merrill said. “The staff was under a lot of pressure from the chief to get rid of them one way or another and reminded them that they are not a no-kill shelter, these dogs had been there since April and they were out of time.”

So, this team of volunteers loaded up the dogs who had been in Houston’s shelters the longest, long before the storm hit.

“By vacating the kennels we left space for some of those strays to come in and hopefully some of them can be reunited with their families," he said.

Hopefully the dogs rescued can find families too. Some volunteers like Dasha Cooper who works for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office already have their eyes on dogs to foster or adopt.

While they brought back more dogs than expected, they had to leave one thing behind. A rescue van died on their trip home.

“Two hours outside of Jacksonville our van kind of went kaput,” said Cynthia Saben, with Pit Stop Pit Bull Rescue Transport.

They had to leave their rescue van in Tallahassee and move the animals into the other vans to finish the trip back to Jacksonville.

The “Pit Stop” non-profit group is dedicated to saving animals on the verge of being euthanized.

“Our van is our life-line, we transport from high kill shelters to rescues,” Saben said.

They have a rescue planned for this Saturday, but without a van that won’t be possible so they are asking for any monetary donations or the donation of a vehicle so they don’t have to cancel on picking up the animals.

Merrill says there are three ways anyone in the community can help:

  • St. Francis Animal Hospital is in need of dog-walkers up to three times a day for their rescues.
  • Rescued dogs are in need of loving fosters homes or adopters.
  • Donations to any organization to help them continue running smoothly, but help is especially needed for Pit Stop Pit Bull Rescue Transport to buy a new rescue van.