Congress Must Act to Protect Animals in Disasters

February 26, 2021

Man rescuing dog

The recent severe winter weather and resulting power and water failures in Texas—a state already under strain from the COVID-19 global public health emergency—once again highlighted that everyone should be prepared for disasters, and this includes business and institutions that keep animals.

Thankfully, today U.S. Reps. Dina Titus (D-NV) and Rodney Davis (R-IL) introduced the Providing Responsible Emergency Plans for Animals at Risk of Emerging Disasters (PREPARED) Act. Under this legislation, facilities licensed and regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)—like zoos, animal-research facilities and commercial puppy breeders—will need to identify and train for potential emergencies and disasters likely to occur at their locations.

Zoos, animal sanctuaries, and other facilities in Texas hit hard by this month’s deep freeze struggled to keep animals safe as entire communities were left without water and power for days. Last weekend, the ASPCA and Wings of Rescue led the urgent transport of more than 170 dogs and cats from North Texas to relieve affected shelters in that area.

Many of these affected facilities in Texas were able to save animals due to proper planning and resourceful employees, but that’s not the case everywhere. Without a federal disaster planning requirement for USDA-regulated facilities, animals around the country are still at risk. 

“The unprecedented winter storms in Texas demonstrate how a lack of preparation for disasters can lead to dire consequences for animals as well as the humans who risk their lives to protect them,” said Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President and CEO. “Facilities that hold licenses under the Animal Welfare Act bear a special responsibility to plan ahead for severe weather, fires, floods, and other emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic, and we thank Representatives Titus and Davis for their efforts to protect these very vulnerable animals.”

What happened in Texas is one more in a series of indicators that weather patterns are growing more erratic, severe, and challenging for people and any animals dependent on them for care. We have seen how wildfires, hurricanes, ice and snowstorms, extreme temperatures and floods have become life-threatening with little warning—and also the extraordinary harms a pandemic brings for animals in our care when plans are not in place. Ensuring that all facilities holding animals under the Animal Welfare Act anticipate and provide for these increasingly predictable challenges is imperative to ensure more lives are not lost. 

Congress directed the USDA in December to reconsider requiring disaster planning after years of delay. Passage of the PREPARED Act would permanently codify emergency planning at USDA-regulated facilities and will send a strong message to the USDA that its continued delay on this issue places animals in danger. 

It’s never too early to be prepared for a disaster. Tell Congress to pass the PREPARED Act by visiting the ASPCA Advocacy Center and contacting your U.S. representative today!