By Taylor Rexrode
A year ago, citizens of West were faced with the horrific aftermath of the fertilizer explosion that left 15 dead, over 160 wounded and several homes destroyed.
In the midst of the tragedy, family pets were missing and injured, but with the help of the Humane Society of Central Texas, those owners were reunited with their furry family members.
Don Bland, executive director of the Humane Society, said almost all 115 pets were claimed by their owners and half of those pets were claimed within two weeks. Other families adopted the handful of unclaimed pets in the months following the accident. However, Bland said even those who had claimed their pets often had no home for them.
“They had to stay in a hotel, and so their pets had to stay here until they had arrangements to go somewhere with their animal,” Bland said. “We housed some here for awhile and some of the owners came to visit their pets every day or every other day because that was their companion.”
The shelter housed a variety of animals from dogs and cats to iguanas, birds and chickens. Livestock and horses were kept at a nearby facility for large animals.
Bland said much of their success in housing the animals came from donations from across the country.
“I got calls from Canada and all over the United States offering to help,” Bland said. “I had someone who said they had a huge trailer to transport and pick up food. There was a donation of a large food supply from Houston. It was really amazing to me the far reach this had.”
The Dallas ASPCA also helped the Humane Society of Central Texas by taking several animals to their facility so that there was space for all the West animals.
With donations, the Humane Society was able to send supplies home to West families when they picked up their pet.
“I remember a little lady came to reclaim her cat,” Bland said. “We were able to give her a cat box, litter, water and food bowls, toys and a cat carrier – everything she needed for that cat. She was just overwhelmed because she was just expecting to get her cat.”
Marcy Russo, coordinator at the Humane Society, said she remembered finding an old German shepherd in someone’s backyard and reuniting it with the owner.
“The lady who owned the shepherd had no home, no food or anything, so we were able to keep her dog her for awhile,” Russo said.
She visited the front line of the accident, helping Daniela Ranzinger, a volunteer at the Humane Society and a 34-year West resident, take care of animals and pet owners.
Russo said one thing she heard from several owners is how they had wished they had microchipped their pet. She advises that all pet owners microchip their pet so that they are easily identified because “you never know what’s going to happen.”
And Russo said she didn’t expect to be called at 4 a.m. to go help find and care for pets and other animals in West, but she said it was a way for her to give back to the community and help those people who had been devastated by the blast.
“If it were me in that, I would hope someone would be caring and love my animals as their own,” Russo said. “These animals are like their children. It would be like if your son or daughter were missing. You’d be looking and you’d want someone to be a safeguard looking out for them. This was a way to make things a little bit better, letting them know their animals are taken care of.”
Ranzinger, whose home was not affected by the fertilizer explosion, was on the scene helping people and animals within half an hour of the accident. She ended up helping for several days, looking for animals who were in hiding and shell-shocked.
“I felt that since I’m a volunteer with the Humane Society, the best way I could help the community was by taking care of their pets,” Ranzinger said.
Ranzinger said she wished she could have seen more reunions between pets and pet owners. For those that weren’t claimed or were surrendered to the shelter, Ranzinger said she made it a mission to get every sheltered West animal a home.
“That meant a lot to me because helping homeless animals is my passion,” Ranzinger said. “Helping with the West animals that were homeless – no matter if it was for an hour or for several months – it felt right what I was doing.”