Holiday Inn Express Apologizes After Refusing to Let Houston Family Fleeing Floodwaters Bring Their Three Dogs Inside
Hurricane Harvey refugee Gillian Parker tells PEOPLE the Holiday Inn where she is staying with her family of four are refusing to let her three dogs inside
UPDATE: As of Wednesday morning, the Parker family and their dogs have safely moved to a private residence, where they’re all staying happily together. They express gratitude to readers who sent support and offers of shelter.
IHG, Holiday Inn Express’ corporate owners, told PEOPLE in a statement that they apologize to the Parker family for their experience at this hotel (which has, since, been accepting guests’ pets during the storm).
“We are working to understand what occurred in this instance, and are communicating to our franchisees in the impacted areas to do all they can to accommodate pets,” the statement read. “As the region continues to feel impacts from the storm, we are highly sensitive to the needs of those affected during this extremely difficult time and are working diligently to best accommodate guests and their needs, and comfort those seeking relief at IHG hotels.”
A representative for IHG also told PEOPLE that they intend to waive the Parkers’ hotel fees and provide them with rewards club points for use in a future stay. They have yet to make contact with the Parker family as of Wednesday evening, the Parkers told PEOPLE.
In response to their statement, the Parkers told PEOPLE they’d prefer IHG make a donation to disaster relief efforts and the Fort Bend County Animal Services — from where two of their dogs were adopted. Donations can be made through Amazon Smile.
Below, PEOPLE’s story as it was originally published on Tuesday:
It was 10 p.m. on Sunday when Gillian Parker and her husband Phillip got the call telling them that a mandatory evacuation order had been issued in the area of their New Territory, Texas, home due to the rising floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey.
The call took the Parkers by surprise given that forecasts had predicted waterfall would be 4-5 ft. below the southwest Houston neighborhood’s levees. But the couple, their 16-year-old daughter Allison Parker and her 81-year-old grandmother Sylvia Parker still packed what they could — splitting four adults and their three dogs between two cars and rushing for safety.
Zooming down the highway to try to get out of town, the Parkers hit a few roadblocks along the way — including a few dead ends and closed streets. One of their cars flooded too. But around midnight, they arrived at the only open hotel they could find: the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Katy, Texas.
That’s where the Parkers got the harsh news that their three dogs — Arrow (a shepherd lab mix), Wiggum (a chocolate lab-hound mix) and Buttercup (a yellow lab) — would not be allowed into the hotel to stay with them.
“It’s ridiculous and outrageous,” Gillian, 47, tells PEOPLE. “This is an 800-year flood. Three exits down the highway, the national guard is pulling people out of their houses. And our dogs can’t come in to safety?”
She says she tried to problem-solve with management, begging to bring the pets in. But local management refused to budge, citing the hotel’s no-pet policy.
Corporate contacts told Gillian that because the Katy location is a franchise, there’s nothing they can do to immediately override the rule.
With all hotels booked and nowhere else to go, the Parkers had no choice but to stay. And since Sunday, the pooches — who were each adopted by the family from shelters — have been staying in the hotel parking lot, watching the storm fall around them from the Parkers’ Prius.
They’re never alone, Gillian says. She and Phillip take turns to sit in the car with the dogs at all times, even overnight. Allison helps out too, joining the cycle with her parents to take the dogs for walks.
“It’s pouring rain,” Gillian explains. “You’re soaked to the bone just getting there, and walking them is even worse. The rain felt like needles in your face. And you end up shivering in the car. It’s just… I’m just chagrined, irritated, cold, wet, tired, and exhausted.”
Asked why she didn’t just insist on bringing the dogs in, Gillian chalks it up to being a family of “rule-followers.”
“My husband’s English,” she says. “You stand in line and you wait your turn. You don’t bust your way in and do what you want.”
They are also worried about consequences if they did. “We’re afraid we’ll get kicked out,” she confesses. “I don’t want to lose my place in the hotel. At this point we’re so tired. And I’m afraid to leave. We hope we’re safe.”
Meanwhile floodwaters continue to rise around the Parkers. Their neighborhood is expected to be inundated Tuesday, the water levels predicted to bypass the 58-ft. levees. Major freeways are blocked. Small roads are out. Not a restaurant or grocery store is open nearby. They’re close to running out of bottled water. And they’ve stopped turning the car on too, worried they’ll run out of gas.
The storm has brought destructive rain to Texas’ largest cities — including Houston, Austin and San Antonio — and Louisiana, resulting in five deaths and 12 injuries, according to the latest reports.
RELATED VIDEO: Hurricane Harvey: Before and After Footage Shows Damage to Houston
PEOPLE reached out to the Holiday Inn General Manager Jim Hernandez, who as of Tuesday afternoon said the hotel has “not wavered” their policy for the Parkers “at this time.”
“Our hotel is a not pet-friendly hotel,” he said. “We do offer our guests areas where they can take their pets to be kenneled. There’s locations here down the street that are able to take their pets if they like.”
Holiday Inn’s corporate representative has not immediately responded to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Per Gillian, it appears the kennel Hernandez referred to is currently closed. If it opens (and it’s safe), she will consider dropping the dogs off there after the storm passes. “If we were about to jump in the car and run for our lives, I would be nervous about it,” she says.
In the meantime, Gillian is hoping something will give with hotel management — who have since told her they’ve made exceptions to guests with smaller dogs but wouldn’t be able to with dogs her size.
“I’m playing nice right now but there’s a point at which I won’t be.” she reveals. “I’m biding my time. I am confident that they’re going to do the right thing.”
And as she waits, her friend from high school Maria Durand is advocating on her behalf on Twitter — having seen Gillian’s dilemma on Facebook.
“I feel terrible, obviously, that she’s having to go through this. But it’s so unfair that she’s not allowed to bring her dogs,” Durand, of Maryland, tells PEOPLE. “It’s bad enough that they have to worry about their entire house flooding and losing all their belongings. But they also have to worry about their pets after they find shelter? I just feel really bad for her.”
The response has been especially touching to Gillain. “I’m just so thrilled that people care,” she says, tearing up. “That just makes me happy but, I also want to burst into tears at the same time.”