ASPCA Welcomes New Federal Rule to Protect Animals in Disasters

After nine-year delay, USDA finally implements rule requiring federally licensed facilities to develop contingency plans for protecting animals during emergencies
January 3, 2022

WASHINGTON, DC – The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) today welcomed the implementation of a rule finalized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requiring facilities regulated by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to create contingency plans for emergencies to better protect animals during disaster situations, ranging from intense and fast-moving fires like those that ravaged the Boulder, Colo. area in recent days, to floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, pandemics, and extreme hot or cold temperatures. Without plans in place before disaster strikes, it can be difficult to respond adequately and protect lives.

The rule was originally finalized in December 2012 but was indefinitely delayed over concerns that the rule would be burdensome for small facilities. In 2018, the USDA addressed this concern by adopting a “de minimis” rule exempting smaller licensees from the requirements of the AWA, but nevertheless, the agency continued to delay the contingency plan rule.

“The ASPCA has witnessed firsthand how important contingency plans are, and how integral they can be in preventing further devastation, most recently with our efforts to provide critical support to dogs and cats impacted by the devastating tornadoes in the Southeast and Midwest,” said Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA Government Relations. “Requiring federally-regulated facilities to have a contingency plan in place will better protect animals and the people who risk their lives to save them, while also freeing up resources and disaster response personnel to ensure other impacted animals receive the care they need when disaster strikes. We are relieved that this long-delayed rule will finally be implemented, and we urge the USDA to ensure that the animals affected by both natural and man-made disasters will be properly cared for under these plans and that their caregivers know what steps to take in these situations.”

The ASPCA and other animal welfare groups worked with champions in Congress to apply pressure on the USDA and demand better protections for animals in zoos, commercial breeding facilities and research facilities. In 2019, Reps. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) and Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) introduced the Providing Responsible Emergency Plans for Animals at Risk of Emerging Disasters (PREPARED) Act, legislation in line with the contingency plan rule. The PREPARED Act would additionally require facilities to file their plans with the USDA.

The PREPARED Act has garnered 222 bipartisan cosponsors, and in February 2020, the ASPCA testified on Capitol Hill in support of the bill. Representatives Titus and Davis also urged the House Agriculture Appropriations committee to include language in the appropriations bill requiring the USDA to propose to lift the stay of the contingency plan rule. Fortunately, that language became law through the Fiscal Year 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act and is the driving force that finally spurred agency action.

Although the USDA’s rule is not as protective as the PREPARED Act, commercial animal facilities will finally be required to have a plan for animals during a disaster and train employees to carry out that plan.

The ASPCA deploys nationwide to assist in relocation, search-and-rescue, sheltering and placement of animals during disaster situations including severe weather, wildfires, tornadoes, and floods. Additionally, the ASPCA works closely with local agencies across the country to help enhance animal response capabilities through grants and training opportunities.

For more information about the ASPCA or to join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade, please visit