by: Erin Ryder, TheHorse.com News Editor
September 16 2008, Article # 12704
While most residents fled the island of Galveston, Texas, as Hurricane Ike approached amid National Weather Service warnings of "certain death," numerous horses and other livestock were left behind. Now rescuers are working to get the surviving animals to safety on the mainland, where a staging area for horses has been set up at Jack Brooks Park in Santa Fe, Texas.
Jerry Finch, president of Habitat for Horses, an equine protection organization based in Galveston County, is assisting in this effort. As of the evening of Sept. 15, crews were just beginning to assess the damage and see to equine needs. Finch's team covered a portion of West Galveston.
"I just went down basically to do an assessment, and there are a bunch of (horses) down there," Finch reported. "There are probably at this point 80 to 100 horses that we're going to have to pull out, in just the little section that we saw."
Finch reported the Galveston flooding was reminiscent of the plight of Plaquemines Parish, La., after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. "The water (in Galveston) got 8 to 10 feet deep, so these horses had to swim out of whatever pastures they were in," Finch reported.
"For those that had to leave their animals, if we can find them we'll take care of them," Finch added. "We're horse people, but the livestock's important to us, too," he said of the stranded cattle that have been spotted in the region. "We'll do whatever we can do to make sure everybody's taken care of."
Finch said horse owners can assist in the rescue in two ways: They can donate time or money. Volunteers will be needed to help care for animals at the staging area. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Habitat for Horses at 866/434-5737. Finch said cash donations are most useful to the group. Donations can be made via the Web site, Habitatforhorse
Damage at the Habitat for Horses ranch in Galveston County.
"With money we can buy the things we really need," Finch explained. "So many people donated things in Katrina that we just never really needed. We need the money to buy the necessities, to pay the vets, to buy the hay."
Aside from the rescue operation under way, another concern is the Habitat for Horses' own primary facility, located on 27 acres in Galveston County. That ranch is home to around 50 animals. Finch described it as "in shambles. But the horses are okay. That was our biggest thing. As long as the horses are okay, we can handle it. We had a brand new barn, operating room facility, everything else, and it no longer has a roof. The sheds and storage are gone. But that's physical stuff--let's take care of the horses first, then we'll take care of (the rest of) it."
Other groups, including the Texas Animal Health Commission, members of a National Veterinary Response Team, USDA Veterinary Services, and the Texas State Animal Resource Team, are also working on the scene. Find contact information for these groups and other resources at "Hurricane Recovery: Contacts for Texas Livestock Owners, Rescue Crews."