EARS help in Houston

Effingham resident Kathy Utz, along with her dog, packs a van of pet supplies to take to Houston.

By Kim Jansen

News Report Staff

Retired school teacher, Kathy Utz, wanted to lend a helping hand to the victims of Hurricane Harvey, which ripped through Texas a month ago leaving thousands without homes.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in South-Central Texas in late August as a Category 4 hurricane, with 130-mph winds and heavy rains. The hurricane moved through the state, killing 70 and damaging nearly 100,000 homes, according to reports.

The Effingham resident wasn’t exactly sure what she would do to help those in need, but after hearing reports from the area, she, along with board members of the local EARS organization, decided they could make a difference by helping the pets who were lost or surrendered in the deadly hurricane.

“I just knew I wanted to do something. I have always wanted to help out in a situation like this. So, that is what I ended up doing,” said Utz.

With Utz being an active member of the EARS organization, animal rescue was a natural fit for her, and the board of EARS began to discuss options on what they could do.

“As a board, we talked about things we could do to help,” said Utz. “We knew we wanted to send supplies.”

Representatives of EARS began collecting donated supplies and cash donations, with stations set up at different businesses in the area. The board also received assistance from Enterprise, which helped the board find a cargo van it could afford to take on the trip.

“The community was fantastic. We got cash donations and enough supplies to fill over three-fourths of the van,” said Utz.

Since there were two seats in the van, Utz and her sister, Judy DeVore, of the St. Louis area, headed to the Houston area, where they worked with Best Friends Animal Society, a national organization heading up the pet rescue efforts.

“We did a lot to help with the dogs that couldn’t be moved yet,” said Utz, who said the pair cared for the pets, helped distribute flyers and provided any assistance the organization needed.

At the time Utz was in Houston, Best Friends was caring for over 500 dogs that were found during the disaster. Each of the pets were on a 30-day-hold, meaning pet owners had 30 days to claim their pet before the organization found a new home for them.

Since Utz would have an empty cargo van for the trip back, EARS had already determined it would bring back as many pets as it could to be adopted by local families.

So, on the 20-hour trip home, Utz and her sister had seven new traveling companions — two Labrador puppies, one Chihuahua/Beagle mix and four kittens.

“We were lucky to get very adoptable pets,” said Utz, adding the two Lab puppies have already found new homes.

Looking back on the six-day trip, Utz feels blessed to have been part of relief efforts, and she will remember both the happy and the sad events that came with the trip.

“The saddest thing was the streets,” said Utz. “Every street was piled high with everyone’s belongings. Every street you went down, there were just curbsides piled with what had been in the houses.”

She added several businesses had closed and some people in the wealthier neighborhoods were living in campers outside of their homes.

Utz was glad she was able to play a small part in helping the hurricane victims.

“It is a great feeling,” she said. “I hope I did some good, but it was a very small thing. But, I felt like I did something.”