"I have no words to explain the gratitude I have for the community," Andrea Birkelbach tells PEOPLE of the outpouring of donations and volunteers

Houston Pets Alive! usually saves pets at risk of euthanasia. But post-Harvey, the organization has shifted its focus to helping the tens of thousands of animals displaced by the flooding.

“People don’t have a place to put their pets—they don’t have a place for themselves,” says Pets Alive! founder Andrea Birkelbach, 33.

It took Birkelbach’s team a day to convert a flooded bank into a shelter where pet owners can temporarily (or, in some sad cases, permanently) surrender their animals.

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Credit: David Butow/Redux for People

“Some people, all of their belongings are on their lawn and the trash is piling a mile high outside their homes. Some people are sleeping in their cars and they want to do right by their pets,” says Birkelbach. “They just cant figure out where they can go that can keep their pet and instead of turning them lose, they’re turning them into a kill-free facility that will provide medical care and then we’ll find them forever homes.”

  • For more stories of neighbors helping neigbors recover after Hurricane Harvey, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE — on newsstands Friday

Birkelbach says she started her operation with “two bags of dog food in the back of my car,” but monetary and resource donations have been streaming in as the Houston community rallies to support each other — and their four-legged friends.

“I have no words to explain the gratitude I have for the community,” Birkelbach says of the outpouring of donations and volunteers.
“It makes me so proud to be a Houstonian.”