ASPCA Commends California Lawmakers for Passing Bill to Protect People and Pets During Disasters

If signed by Gov. Newsom, A.B. 781 will help California families with pets stay safe during natural disasters and extreme weather events
September 14, 2023

SACRAMENTO – The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) commends California lawmakers for passing A.B. 781 to ensure local governments designate pet-friendly emergency shelters where California families and their pets can stay safely together when disaster strikes. The bill unanimously passed both State Houses, and now heads to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has 30 days to sign the bill into law.

The bill’s passage comes during National Preparedness Month, and on the heels of the historic Tropical Storm Hilary that impacted thousands of California residents. Lack of public preparedness, unclear state guidance, and low rate of pet-friendly emergency shelters or co-shelters – where people can take and stay with their pets – all enhance the human risks associated with any emergency response. Those who are denied shelter with their pets may refuse evacuation, threatening their own safety and that of first responders. Some pet owners evacuate without their pets and then attempt to illegally reenter evacuation sites to rescue their animals.

“No one should have to make the heartbreaking choice between seeking shelter or staying with their beloved pet, but the rapid increase in wildfires and extreme heat in California is causing significant risk to public health and community safety, and there are still many gaps in providing adequate support for families with companion animals,” said Brittany Benesi, senior director of state legislation for the ASPCA, Western Division. “We’re grateful to Assemblymember Maienschein for championing A.B. 781 to ensure Californians and their pets can stay safely together when disaster strikes, and we urge Governor Newsom to sign this lifesaving bill into law to protect animals and the people who risk their lives to save them.”

"A.B. 781 will ensure that all counties in California have designated emergency centers that can accommodate pet owners and their companions. No Californian should have to choose between safely evacuating during an emergency and staying with their animals,” said Assemblymember Brian Maienschein.

A recent ASPCA survey of California pet owners revealed that over 50 percent of respondents would only evacuate if they could take their pets with them. However, of pet owners surveyed, 70 percent do not have emergency housing secured, and 76 percent of respondents who reported they would evacuate to a public evacuation shelter plan to bring their pets with them, demonstrating the importance of increasing access to emergency shelters that accommodate pets.

The ASPCA deploys nationwide to assist in relocation, search-and-rescue, sheltering, and reunification efforts during disaster situations including hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, and floods. Additionally, they work closely with local agencies across the country to help enhance their animal response capabilities through grants and training opportunities. The ASPCA also works with lawmakers at both the state and federal levels to increase access to co-sheltering opportunities, and California lawmakers continue to be at the forefront of these efforts. In August, California Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), along with Reps. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) and Brian Mast (R-Fla), introduced the PETSAFE Act (H.R.5175), a bipartisan bill that would establish a pilot grant program to provide resources such as shelter, transportation, and re-unification for pet owners in communities impacted by natural disasters.

Each September, the ASPCA recognizes National Preparedness Month as a time to remind pet owners of the importance of taking precautionary efforts to incorporate animals into all emergency preparedness plans especially those involving a potential evacuation. According to national survey results the ASPCA released in 2021, less than half of pet owners have a disaster plan in place, yet 83 percent of current pet owners reported living in a community that faces natural disasters.

Disasters can strike at any moment and creating a portable pet emergency kit with essential items such as medical records, pet food, water, bowls, and your pet’s medication is a key step in preparing for a potential evacuation. For more information on how to incorporate pets – including cats, dogs, equines and exotics – into disaster preparedness plans, visit