Pet Evacuation in Emergencies

I remember a particularly harsh winter from my youth that was not unlike the one many of us in the United States have experienced this year. Growing up in rural Liberty, MO, snowstorms were not unusual, but the ice storm that I recall from “that” year was an unusually rough one. We were without heat and power for 5 days. My father rented a kerosene heater that you could only fire up once an hour. I am sure that it would not have met today’s safety standards.

Pyewacket, our cat, was miserable, as he had to be corralled those 5 days in the one room that served as our shelter with a doberman and 2 dachshunds. But he had his people with him.

I don’t know if anyone offered our family shelter from the cold – this was 40 years ago – but I doubt we would have gone to a shelter if it was available. We wouldn’t have left Pyewacket, Dober, Snoopy and Baron behind.

Fast forward to today.

Canton, OH, the county seat of Stark County, is now my home, and the city is in its second day of recovery from the Ice Storm of 2011. Canton’s mayor declared a state of emergency in the early morning hours while the storm had us in its grasp. By later in the morning, over 55,000 electric customers were without power. Tree limbs were down all over the city, dragging power lines with them.

The Canton Repository bragged about Canton and Stark County’s emergency response. Except for one thing. Two shelters were set up for people to come out of the cold and unsafe conditions, but if you had pets, too bad.

The emergency shelter doesn’t take pets unless it is a certified medical assist dog, said Melissa Seibert, shelter manager and medical supervisor at the civic center. She suggested people call their veterinarian or another boarding facility to see if they will take pets in an emergency. – Canton Repository, 2/2/11

I suspect that Canton is not unlike most cities. Despite the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, most communities still fail to include pets in their disaster and evacuation preparedness planning. When the crisis hits, people with pets are faced with either leaving their pets behind to face dangerous conditions, or risk their own lives to ensure their pets’ safety. If you read the article mentioned above, you will see that a woman in Canton chose the latter, seeking shelter for her cat that was not readily available.

I ask our intrepid shelter manager/medical supervisor: How are people supposed to call around for pet shelter when they have no power and phone lines are down too? Are they supposed to flip through the yellow pages by candlelight, making calls on their cell phone, when the battery is dying because there is no power source to recharge it?

Why haven’t our disaster preparedness teams made contingency plans in advance for pet evacuation in emergencies? Isn’t that what the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS Act) compelled them to do?

I am disappointed in my community. Luckily, we are rebounding from this “disaster” pretty rapidly, but what if a more widespread and devastating crisis occurs?

Some may say that animals are not as important as human beings when a true disaster occurs. I won’t debate that issue. I will say, however, that, regardless of your belief about the importance of animals, many people consider their pets family. An emergency is no time to try to convince them otherwise. They will risk their own lives to ensure their pets’ well being.

By failing to care for animals, we put humans at risk.

It is the same problem for families caught up in a perpetual cycle of crisis sparked by domestic violence. Many families remain in dangerous situations because care for their animals is not available.

Whether you are an animal advocate or not, surely you must see the necessity of caring for animals in order to care for the people who love them when they are faced with dangerous circumstances. We can, and we must, do better.

If not for our creatures, for ourselves.

2 thoughts on “Pet Evacuation in Emergencies”

  1. Great post Bz! You’re right – many people will choose to stay behind to care for their animals rather than be evacuated. This is an issue that needs to be addressed by our communities prior to a disaster, rather than after. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thx for your comment Vicki. Pet owners should have their own contingency plans for emergencies, but when faced with a community wide emergency, personal plans could get diverted. We need to contend with the reality that pets mean something to people, and that those people are not truly safe -psychologically or physically -if their pets are not safe. FACT.

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