Animals in disasters

BY SUSAN KIM | OKLAHOMA CITY | March 21, 2002


What if foot-and-mouth

disease infects U.S. cattle? How can owners be less

worried about their pets during an evacuation? And why

is so much dog food donated after disasters?

Responders at the National Voluntary Organizations

Active in Disaster (NVOAD) conference swapping animal-

related stories agreed on one thing: it's an issue too

important to ignore.

If foot-and-mouth disease enters the U.S., for example,

it could completely destroy the agriculture economy in a

sweeping epidemic, said Dave Tomkins, emergency

management coordinator for the Texas Animal Health

Commission.

Investigators thought a case had surfaced last week but

luckily it was just a scare. Tomkins and others have

been putting together preparedness plans for a disease

that could gravely affect the U.S. economy.

"This could be worse than the World Trade Center

disaster not in human terms but in economic terms," said

Tomkins.

That's why Tomkins has prepared sample plans for foot-

and-mouth disease, whether it's accidentally brought in

by travelers or as part of a terrorist attack.

When foot-and-mouth disease ran rampant in Britain in

2001, some six million animals had to be destroyed. The

tourism industry was hit hard as news broke of smoking

carcass heaps.

There are more than five million heads of cattle just in

Oklahoma, pointed out Dr. Carrie Floyd of the Oklahoma

Department of Agriculture. Texas has even more.

Floyd, Tomkins, and other responders have also been

considering other animal-related issues, including what

to do about people who are reluctant to evacuate because

they're worried about caring for their pets.

"The Red Cross generally doesn't have pet-friendly

shelters," said Tomkins.

"Also, after something like a hurricane, we've found

that people returning to unsafe homes to check on their

pets actually outnumber people returning to check on

damages. They'll break through barriers to check on

their pets."

People should attempt to rescue animals only if they're

trained to do so, cautioned Jef Hale, program

coordinator for the Humane Society of the United States

(HSUS).

"They need to be equipped to respond," he said. "I've

seen people with no gloves go out and try to rescue

cats."

Animal rescuers need to have a means of communication

should they be in danger, and they should work in pairs,

he said.

Animal rescue training can be provided through a variety

of sources, he said. Technical animal rescue training is

offered by several private organizations. The state of

Florida offers disaster animal rescue training, and a

few other states are planning to offer that as well. The

Federal Emergency Management Agency offers a home course

on animals in disasters. Beginners can also check out

the book "Animal Management in Disasters" by Sebastian

Heath.

Local responders or people who care on a local level can

get involved with animal-related issues by participating

in or creating an Animal Disaster Planning Advisory

Committee (ADPAC), he said, comparing local ADPACs to

local VOADs.

HSUS created and developed ADPACs in the wake of

Florida's Hurricane Andrew. To this day, Florida and

California are two states that have the strongest animal-

related response, Hale said, but all states should try

to develop an ADPAC.

"It opens the lines of communication, and it's a forum

for exchanging ideas and initiatives."

Disaster responders, who may work with HSUS or through

local animal shelters, should find a way to get the word

out to evacuees that their pets are being cared for.

"Make contact with human shelters - they often house pet

owners - and let them know where lost pets can be found.

And go through this day after day. Provide handouts with

contact numbers. Provide a list of animals with basic

descriptions."

Communities can decide -- before a disaster -- what to

do with unclaimed animals, he added.

After a disaster, he said, try to evaluate what worked

and what didn't for the next time around. And remember

what's needed in the future.

When planning for animal-related equipment and supplies,

keep in mind that "you're probably going to end up with

a lot of stuff," said Hale.

When local shelters are faced with disasters, they often

put out an initial request for dog food, thinking

they'll run out, he said. "Then they're inundated."

Sending dog food seems to be an emotional pull for

donors, he said. "People will spend $25 to send a $5 bag

of dog food across the country."

When May 2000 wildfires burned were burning in Los

Alamos -- forcing evacuation of some 17,000 people -

local animal shelters were inundated with displaced

pets. Then they were inundated with dog food. "We ended

up using dog food to build walls to separate the animals

areas," said Hale. "It worked."

When untrained volunteers -- even with good intentions

-- swarm a local shelter, local animal disaster

responders become concerned about liability issues.

"There are donations management issues and liability

issues," said Hale, but added he still thinks animal

response should be handled mainly through local

shelters. "Every day in a community if you've lost a dog

you're going to go to the local animal shelter. That

shouldn't change.

"Mainly what we want to do is keep the animals safe and

healthy -- and keep them happy. Mostly they're happy

when mom or dad comes to get them."

HSUS has a "Disaster Planning Manual for Animals"

available for free. E-mail [email protected] or call 972-488-

2964.

HSUS is also hosting a National Conference on Animals in

Disasters May 29-31 in Fort Worth, TX.


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