Responders urge plans for pets

Why don't cities and states include pets in disaster planning?

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | January 20, 2006



"We support federal legislation to require the government to include pets when they're setting up state disaster plans."

—Melissa Rubin


Why don't cities and states include pets in disaster planning?

Amid the chaos following Hurricane Katrina, hundreds of anguished pet owners were forced to decide between leaving their beloved animals behind or evacuating to a safe shelter.

"No one should ever have to make that choice," said Melissa Rubin, vice president of field and disaster Services for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

HSUS and other voluntary agencies are urging Congress to support the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act requiring state and local authorities to include both pets and service animals in their disaster evacuation plans.

The bipartisan bill (H.R. 3858) has been introduced by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) and Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.). A corresponding Senate bill is expected.

After heartrending footage and news stories about people leaving pets behind after Katrina, Rubin and others hope people are more aware of how important it is to include pets in disaster plans. Considering sixty percent of Americans own pets, it's an issue that could be important to many.

"Pets are part of the family," said Rubin. "No one is going to evacuate without their pets. I really believe people have seen that now. When people in New Orleans had to get on the bus or get on the boat, they had to leave the pet behind."

"We support federal legislation to require the government to include pets when they're setting up state disaster plans."

As the PETS Act is under consideration, people can still include their pets in their evacuation plan on an individual and family level, pointed out Rubin. "We'd like to tell everyone that if it's not safe for you it's not safe for your pet. You have to include your pets."

Trauma lingers for animals

HSUS rescued and sheltered more than 10,000 animals in the wake of Katrina, but the trauma still lingers for animals, observed Rubin.

"There are still animals that unfortunately are on the streets in New Orleans that you can't just easily capture. They are so frightened that we've started a humane trapping program in Orleans Parish and along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Some of these animals are very scared."

No one knows the exact number, but many animals are still believed to be roaming New Orleans, hiding under millions of tons of debris or hunkering down in abandoned houses.

Katrina damaged and destroyed many animal shelters in Mississippi and Louisiana. HSUS is offering a grant program for shelters that want to apply for funds to help them rebuild. "Some of them need to establish a temporary site for at least a year or a year-and-a-half while they rebuild," said Rubin.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS, urged people to remember that recovery from Katrina will take years. "The HSUS responded immediately with an army of people who helped establish two massive shelters in the wake of Katrina's devastation along the Gulf Coast," he said.

"We are still on the ground with rescue activities, and we are still spending tremendous resources on reunions. But it is important to understand that we are going to be involved in this effort for years - restoring and enhancing the capacities of shelters and setting up spay and neuter operations that will address some of the fundamental problems of animal care along the Gulf Coast. We are grateful to the people who have offered their financial support. It gives us this staying power."

Are your pets prepared?

HSUS recommends that families simulate a disaster to test their preparedness. Pretend you have 45 minutes to evacuate, and ask yourself the following questions:

1. Can you gather all your pets and put them into pet carriers in time? Do you have carriers for all your pets?

2. Are all your pets wearing collars and ID tags with their name, your name, your telephone number, and an emergency telephone number?

3. If your cat escapes the cat carrier and becomes lost, could you provide a photograph?

4. Do you know where you can go with your pets in the event of an emergency evacuation? Do you know of any pet-friendly motels nearby? Do you know where your local emergency animal shelter is located?

5. Do you have your veterinarian's telephone number on your list of emergency numbers in case your dog or cat becomes ill?

If you have horses...

1. Can you have your horses loaded on the trailer ready to leave in time? Will your horse trailer hold all your horses?

2. Is your horse wearing a halter with her name, your name, your telephone number, and an emergency telephone number on it?

3. Do you know where you can go with your horses in the event of an emergency evacuation? Do you know where your local emergency equine shelter is located?

4. Do you have your horses' Coggins tests in your emergency packet to present to the officer at the emergency shelter?

5. When you arrive at the emergency shelter to pick up your horse after several days, could you provide identification photos and descriptions from your emergency packet to prove ownership?


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