Since the French and Indian war, “leave no man behind” has been the creed of the United States military. No matter the branch, every soldier carries that thought with them into every battle.
No matter what happens, no one leaves until we all can. That’s now also become the creed of the tireless volunteers that are traveling by boat, kayak, canoe or even just hip boots and waders through the streets and alleys of Texas looking for stranded victims of Hurricane Harvey.
They’ve seen it all during the last few days. They’ve rescued everything from women in labor to cats with litters of newborn kittens.
They’ve gone into attics and out onto roofs to help two and four foot victims into their arms and the safety beyond. One of the rescues that stands out as possibly the most memorable was what they found when they followed the sound of Betty Walter’s cries for help.
Not only did they find Betty hunkered down, or rather up, in the attic of her home. But she was surrounded by 21 very confused and puzzled but safe dogs.
Betty had refused to leave if she couldn’t go to a shelter with her own four dogs. So, she stayed behind realizing she could very easily end up in dire straits.
All of her neighbors started bailing, only a few taking their pets with them. So Betty volunteered to keep the remaining animals safe for them.
Her numbers started rising as neighbor after neighbor took her up on her generous offer. Then the water started rising and Betty realized quickly she might have bitten off more than she could easily chew.
That fear didn’t stop her from going out in the darkness in knee deep water to follow the sounds of a dog in distress whose irresponsible owner had left it behind without any protection.
“I don’t think I will ever forget those cries for help from dogs in my neighborhood,” she wrote on Facebook. “A lot of people kept their dogs outside. I tried so hard to go rescue a couple. The water was just too high. They cried for hours.”
She added, “But, I did rescue a small dog last night.” No dog left behind on Betty’s watch!
After a while, the water got so deep that it was over the heads of the smaller dogs. And then over the heads of the larger ones. Over four feet of water.
It was time to seek a safer level. Betty lowered the steps to her attic and one by one helped the 21 dogs up the ladder before finally crawling up herself.
Then it was time to just sit and wait for the water to go down, or for help to arrive. It will be a long time before the water is gone, but help arrived about 14 hours later.
William Beasley, his wife, and some friends, had been in a boat all day. They had traveled the flooded streets of Houston rescuing humans and animals that had been stranded by high waters.
They were almost too tired to continue when they came on Betty and her 21 dogs. Betty was afraid the boat was too small and it would tip it over. She begged the rescuers to leave her behind and come back for her.
They refused. Remember, no man left behind. Or woman. Even one who comes with 21 dogs of assorted shapes and sizes.
So, they piled the boat full of dogs. Dogs in crates, dogs riding free, dogs perched on spots almost too small for them to fit.
Here a dog, there a dog, everywhere a dog dog. They had to fit them together almost like a puzzle, but eventually they fit.
And, miraculously, everyone behaved, seeming to understand that their lives were in jeopardy and the men and women around them were doing their best to keep them safe.
When they finally carried the last dog down from the attic, the boat was full of dogs. There was no room left for the humans, so they all held hands and pulled each other through water that was at times far over Betty’s head.
She was a trooper though, and she stayed with the dogs until they were finally safe on dry land and in vehicles aimed at a safe haven. A truly responsible pet owner and animal lover ’til the end.
Although they had been able to pile all 21 dogs into one boat, it took a couple of cars and trucks to get everyone to their destination. The dogs were all still pretty confused, but thanks to Betty and their owners that made plans for them, albeit at the last minute, still alive.
Betty says she can’t forget the cries she heard in the night that she couldn’t answer. The cries that eerily stopped as the storm raged on and the water rose higher and higher with no place for a dog to find safety. She can’t stand to think of what rescuers will find as the water goes down.
As she continues to care for her own four dogs and the 17 she took in from the storm she begs other owners to please take responsibility for the four foots in your care. It’s not always easy, she’s the first to admit, but she says she has no regrets that she refused to leave any dog behind.
Thank you, Betty, for being a reminder that heroes don’t always wear fatigues and uniforms. Sometimes being a hero means just doing the right thing. Even when it’s not easy.