As heavy rain poured off the roof of her house in Austin, Texas, late Monday afternoon, Kim Griffin learned on Facebook that her local animal shelter, Austin Pets Alive, had been flooded by the severe storms over the weekend and was in desperate need of volunteers to take in homeless pets.
The Internet sales tech, 37, who already had a frisky black lab named Diablo at home, put on her raincoat and trudged through the flooded streets to foster an animal in need.
“I saw the pictures of the kennels with standing water, and I knew I had to help,” Griffin, who loaded her car with towels and linens to help dry off wet pets, tells PEOPLE.
Shelter workers sent her home with a brown-and-white Jack Russell mix named Vader, who is known as an “escape artist” at the no-kill shelter located near Lady Bird Lake.
“In the short time I’ve had him, he’s stolen my heart,” says Griffin. “So now I’m adopting him. There’s no way I want to take him back.”
Griffin is among dozens of Austin residents who lined up in the rain to foster 211 cats and dogs that had been placed temporarily in pet carriers when a creek next to the shelter overflowed its banks and flooded the kennels.
“Water started pouring into the dog runs, and we knew we needed some help,” Laura Shirey, 35, a volunteer for Austin Pets Alive, tells PEOPLE.
“People acted very quickly – the response we got was incredible. We even had people take towels home and wash them for us. Some of these people had trees knocked down in their yards and their houses were partly flooded, and yet they showed up,” she says.
Alexa Partridge, a health supplements consultant who lives in Georgetown, Texas, wanted to cry when she saw the long line of volunteers outside her favorite animal shelter.
“It’s been instilled in me my entire life to care for animals – it’s something I care deeply about,” she tells PEOPLE. “It was touching to see so many people who’d dropped everything to get there. These dogs and cats don’t have a voice. It’s up to us to help them.”
Partridge, 29, took in a pit bull terrier-mix named Bone for two nights. “I’d love to have kept him longer, but my place isn’t big enough, and I have two cats who would be intimidated,” she says. “But now a friend of mine is thinking of adopting him. He’s a terrific dog and deserves a nice home.”
Those who couldn’t take in an animal for a night or two found other ways to help. Within two days, volunteers had cleaned clogged drains and mopped up water, which allowed the largest public-run, no-kill animal shelter in the country to reopen and take in 67 more dogs from another shelter that euthanizes animals when there isn’t room in overflow facilities.
“The foster families helped save the lives of these dogs,” Shirey says. “Most people took in a dog for a night or two, while others are fostering them a week or more or adopting. It’s been heartwarming to see. Some of these pets hadn’t been in homes since they came here, so to sleep in a real bed for a night or two was a real treat.”
Griffin’s new dog, Vader, has taken over her bed, but she and Diablo don’t mind.
“He sleeps on his back, and he and Diablo are playing like old pals,” she says. “I was told he’d be nervous and anxious with people, but the truth is, he just needed a home and some love.”