A year after Hurricane Harvey, abandoned dogs are still finding homes in Toronto

A Toronto organization's one-time mission to help dogs displaced by Hurricane Harvey has evolved into a year-long rescue effort that has found new homes for more than 250 animals.

A local group now makes monthly trips to the U.S. and has rescued more than 250 animals

Adopter Tasha Nathan initially signed up as a temporary foster caretaker. She ended up keeping her dog Jasper. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

A Toronto organization's one-time mission to help dogs displaced by Hurricane Harvey has evolved into a year-long rescue effort that has found new homes for more than 250 animals.

Nicole Simone launched the initiative last year after hearing about a boom of stray dogs and overcrowded animal shelters in Houston, Texas after last year's devastating storm.

"I offered to take 10 dogs and I started a GoFundMe," said Simone, the founder and executive director of Redemption Paws. "That GoFundMe turned into helping 40 dogs, and a year later we've helped over 250 dogs."

The organization will celebrate its first anniversary on Sunday.

Simone says the need for help has been immense in Houston and its surrounding areas, even a year after Harvey caused massive damage to the region.

The storm is believed to have displaced thousands of dogs, which has left local shelters struggling to care for the animals.

Simone says the crisis has now started to impact rural communities in Texas, which have seen lower adoption rates due to the surge of abandoned dogs in Houston.

"There's an absolute ripple effect," she said. "And with natural disasters and climate change we're going to be seeing more of this."

Nicole Simone launched Redemption Paws in September 2017. A year later, it has rescued more than 250 dogs from areas affected by climate change and natural disasters. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

Redemption Paws now makes monthly trips to the United States — including California and Texas — to rescue shelter dogs displaced by fires, flooding and storms. The organization has more than 200 volunteers and is funded strictly by donations, Simone said.

"If you told me a year ago that I would have been helping 250 dogs, I wouldn't believe you," she added with a laugh. "It's been a tremendous community effort. The people of Toronto and the GTA are generous people when it comes to animals."

From new owners to volunteers

Tasha Nathan initially volunteered to provide a temporary foster home for one of the rescued animals. Instead, she ended up keeping the dog.

"There was something about him," she said of Jasper, a Dalmatian mix. "I just knew in my heart that he would fit right in."

Like many of the adopters, Nathan now counts herself as a volunteer of the organization, conducting phone interviews, checking references and arranging home visits for prospective adopters.

"The idea of a dog that had been abandoned, going through a natural disaster, and just suffering all that trauma, being able to give them a new home… it really spoke to me," she added.

Monique Losier and her dog Emmett, who was lost or abandoned in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

Monique Losier, another adopter, said her dog Emmett was rescued from a "high-kill" shelter in Houston immediately following the hurricane.

"A lot of people abandon their dogs after these disasters," she said after fighting back tears. "It's not fair to the dog."

Dogs adopted quickly in Toronto

Redemption Paws says it now has a waiting list for prospective adopters, who are carefully screened and matched with a suitable dog.

Simone estimates that around 40 per cent of the dogs rescued by Redemption Paws would have been put down if they had remained in the U.S.

Asked about concerns that her organization may be causing local dogs to go unadopted, she said Toronto's already high adoption rates mean the city can support more rescue dogs.

Redemption Paws sends two vans and four volunteers to rescue dogs from the United States around once a month. (Redemption Paws)

The local humane society confirmed her position.

"There's a large demand of individuals in the city who want to adopt," said Phil Nichols of the Toronto Humane Society, which also brings up dogs from various shelters in the U.S. to meet local demand.

Those animals are typically adopted within a matter of four to five days, he added, describing the process as "exceptionally quick."