Disaster can strike at any time, so it’s important to be prepared to take action at a moment’s notice. But have you considered what to do with your pet? September is Disaster Preparedness Month, and we’re taking this opportunity to make sure that pet parents are ready to respond if necessary.
Here are three ways to make sure your family is prepared to handle any emergency:
Ten years ago, the nation and the world were horrified by the catastrophic loss of life and property in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The human toll was devastating. But so was the toll on thousands of companion animals throughout the Gulf coast. An estimated 250,000 dogs and cats were displaced or died as a result of the storm.
Animal rescue groups rushed to the scene and committed themselves to the daunting challenge of saving as many lives as they could. The ASPCA worked closely with the Louisiana SPCA and the Humane Society of South Mississippi, sending dedicated staff to work on the ground for two years and contributing $13 million in grants for rescue, reunification and sheltering efforts.
In collaboration with our partners, we helped reunite more than a thousand pets with their owners, and helped transport over 7,500 homeless and displaced animals to the Lamar-Dixon Exposition Center in Gonzales, Louisiana, which had been dedicated to their care.
Despite weeks of round-the-clock work from responders and volunteers, flaws in the process kept us from being even more effective. It became obvious that new organizational approaches and legal fixes were necessary to get ahead of the next major calamity, and—true to form—we didn’t delay.
Less than a year after the storm, two groups were formed with formal support and participation from the ASPCA: the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition (NARSC) and the National Alliance of State Animal and Agricultural Emergency Programs (NASAAEP). These coalitions are dedicated to enhancing communications between animal welfare organizations, state agencies, and volunteers during emergencies. They also conduct in-depth trainings around the country on topics including flood and fire rescue, pet first aid, proper animal handling, decontamination and animal sheltering and assessment.
On the federal legislative side, two Acts passed by Congress—the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act and the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act—added pets to existing federal guidelines for disaster planning, and designated FEMA as the lead agency for pets in federally declared disasters. These laws not only save lives, but elevate the issue of animal safety to its rightful place among other natural disaster priorities.
Another measure only recently proposed, the Animal Emergency Planning Act, would require businesses that house pets—including pet breeders, research facilities, zoos, animal carriers and animal handlers—to develop detailed contingency plans for animal care in cases of emergency. These businesses profit or benefit from animals; it only make sense that they take full responsibility for the animals’ safety.
Important legislative work is also happening at the state level. If you live in California, I urge you to join us and the American Red Cross in supporting AB 317, which will facilitate the establishment of vital emergency shelters in the event of a state emergency. We’re collaborating with the Red Cross to also find ways of co-locating animal and human shelters to help keep families and their pets together during severe crises. AB 317 faces a critical final vote in the Senate next week before heading to Governor Brown's desk for his consideration.
Setting up animal shelters quickly is crucial. During Katrina, many of the existing Louisiana shelters were flooded, making emergency facilities the only available shelters across four parishes.
In New York, lawmakers recently passed a bill that will enable veterinarians to cross state lines to respond to pets in disasters and other crises. Because these unexpected events can often overwhelm local agencies, it’s vital to facilitate the quick arrival of out-of-state veterinarians who specialize in shelter medicine, forensic sciences, and emergency response protocol. This bill is currently awaiting Governor Cuomo’s signature.
Of course, the biggest responsibility for keeping pets safe and alive during disasters belongs to their owners. When owners don’t take necessary precautions, it puts both them and their animals in danger. According to a Fritz Institute poll, 44 percent of New Orleans residents delayed or chose not to evacuate the city during Hurricane Katrina because they refused to leave their pets behind. A similar nationwide poll by Lake Research Partners on behalf of the ASPCA found 42 percent of Americans would also not evacuate without their pets.
Simple, inexpensive preparations can keep owners from having to choose between their pets’ lives and their own. Some of the most important tips:
Micro-chip your pets and make sure they wear collars and ID tags with up-to-date contact information.
Keep current photos of your pets on hand.
Establish quick exit routes in your home, and know the locations of local animal shelters, pet-friendly hotels and friends who can watch your pets for you.
Put stickers on your windows to let rescuers know pets currently live there. (Please remove them if no animals are inside)
Put together an emergency kit, including pet carriers, canned food, bowls, bottled water, first aid items, garbage bags, and blankets.
With natural disasters always threatening to wreak havoc on our lives, we must continue to learn from them and actively prepare for their effects. This is the best way to protect ourselves as well as those whose lives depend on us.
This August marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which forever changed the way America responds to natural disasters.
The ASPCA knows firsthand that disasters create impossible and heartbreaking scenarios for both animals and the people who risk their own safety to rescue them. In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we worked with animal welfare professionals and volunteers in Louisiana to help rescue, reunite, and re-home more than 8,000 animals stranded by the storm.
During disasters like hurricanes, fires and floods, the ASPCA and other non-governmental agencies play a crucial role in protecting animals and assisting with recovery efforts through search and rescue operations and set-up of emergency veterinary clinics, emergency boarding facilities, and pet supply distribution centers—at no cost to taxpayers. Given the size and expense of these efforts, it’s reasonable to expect that businesses regularly utilizing animals be required to prepare for emergencies and have comprehensive response plans in place to protect the animals in their care.
Legislation introduced in Congress this month will ensure that businesses like zoos, research facilities and large-scale animal breeders are prepared if disaster strikes. The Animal Emergency Planning Act (H.R. 3193), bipartisan legislation introduced by Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), will require facilities regulated by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to develop disaster response plans and ensure that employees know what steps to take when an emergency occurs.
We need your help: Visit theASPCA Advocacy Center now to quickly and easily contact your U.S. representative in Washington and urge him or her to co-sponsor the Animal Emergency Planning Act.
Update: The ASPCA has helped to reunite two formerly missing cats with their guardian following a large explosion and fire in New York City’s East Village neighborhood last week. The Office of Emergency Management granted ASPCA responders access to a residential building where they searched for and located the cats.
The two cats belong to East Village resident Kathleen Blomberg, who has been displaced and is staying with a friend. The ASPCA will provide transportation and medical exams at the ASPCA Animal Hospital for Kathleen’s cats, Kitty Cordelia and Sebastian, and we have also offered free boarding for her cats as she secures new housing.
This post was originally published on March 27, 2015.
At the request of the Office of Emergency Management, the ASPCA is providing coordination of animal-related issues at the city’s emergency reception center for pet owners in the area surrounding the site of Thursday’s explosion and fire in the East Village neighborhood of New York City. Residents in the evacuation area who need to access their pets should speak to a police officer for more information.
The damage and resulting needs of residents affected by the explosion and fire are still being assessed.
Great news for Midwestern pets! The ASPCA announced the first grant recipients of our newly-launched Midwest Disaster Resiliency Program to provide much-needed funding, training and expertise to local communities to better serve and assist animals and pet parents during and after disasters.
Animals are often overlooked when it comes to disaster planning, and communities—especially those in areas like the Midwest, which experience higher rates of natural disasters—must be prepared to rescue, shelter, and provide emergency care for pets in the event of a crisis.
While the ASPCA Field and Investigations and Response (FIR) team frequently responds to natural disasters around the country, the Midwest Disaster Resiliency Program allows the ASPCA to work with communities, animal welfare organizations and government agencies in Midwestern states to better enhance their ability to respond to animals and pet guardians affected by emergencies.
Through the program, the ASPCA is providing more than $50,000 to the below groups for emergency response training, equipment and disaster preparedness:
Animal Rescue League Of Iowa (Des Moines, IA)
Beadle County Humane Society (Huron, SD)
Benton Animal Control and Adoption Center (Benton, AR)
Butler County Kansas Animal Response Team (Augusta, KS)
City of Sherwood Department of Humane Animal Services (Sherwood, AR)
City of St. Cloud, MN
Enid SPCA (Enid, OK)
Faulkner County Animal Response Team (Conway, AR)
Johnson County Animal Response Team (Lenexa, KS)
Kingman Pratt Area Animal Response Team (Cheney, KS)
Kansas SART, Inc. (Wichita, KS)
Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association and Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps (St. Paul, MN)
Nebraska Humane Society (Omaha, NE)
Springfield-Greene County Community Emergency Response Team (Springfield, MO)
Emergencies come in many forms and the best thing communities can do for their citizens and pets is to be prepared. The ASPCA is also working with PetSmart Charities, Inc. to provide animal welfare organizations across the country with the equipment and supplies necessary to respond to and care for an increased number of animals in large-scale emergencies.
We are so excited to help local communities keep more families and pets together during disasters.