A Look Inside: Pet-Friendly Emergency Shelter

Wednesday, October 9, 2013 - 4:15pm
white dog laying down on Red Cross blanket

Guest blog by Jennifer Leary, a volunteer with the American Red Cross.

Jennifer Leary is a Philadelphia firefighter, the coordinator for the Philadelphia County Animal Response Team and founder of the Red Paw Emergency Relief Team.

In 1999, Hurricane Floyd claimed the lives of millions of animals, and thousands more were separated from their families. Many of these animals would have been saved if a pet-friendly coordinated response plan had been in effect. When Hurricanes Irene and Sandy struck, we saw that many counties had incorporated co-located pet shelters into their evacuation plans, but most people don’t know the amount of planning it takes to make this happen.

When a co-located pet shelter is developed, there are things an emergency planning committee needs to take into account: 

  • The area where the animals are contained needs to be away from general population, but close enough so that the families can come by and care for their pets
  • There needs to be safe, outdoor access for dogs
  • A good source of ventilation is vital
  • The area needs to be pet-proofed and safe for all pets

As a volunteer for the Red Cross, I was assigned to a co-located pet shelter during Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. When a member of the community came to the shelter with their pet, the individual was greeted by a Red Cross volunteer who directed them to the temporary pet shelter. At pet check-in, a photo was taken of the family with their pet; along with proper paperwork, this helped maintain proof of ownership of the animal.  The photo was also used to create special ID bracelets that were used as a visitor’s pass.

Emergencies come in many forms, and they may require anything from a brief absence from your home to permanent evacuation. Knowing their beloved pet has access to a safe haven helps families deal with the emotional tragedy of being forced out of their home. 

When preparing your pets, research safe locations in your area that can shelter pets during emergencies and write them down in a list. The Red Cross has some guidelines here and the ASPCA has guidelines here.

Order your FREE ASPCA Pet Safety Pack!