FEMA Helps Pets During Disasters
PETS Act of 2006
As of Friday, September 8, more than 600,000 people had left Miami-Dade county to escape the oncoming hurricane, Irma. My family was among them. We decided to head up to my parents’ weekend house in north central Florida, just south of Gainesville. What is normally a five-hour drive took us more then eleven hours! There was super heavy traffic everywhere and long lines at gas stations.
Everywhere we went on the slow trek north we saw dogs in car windows, dogs in crates, and dogs being walked at rest stops and gas stations. As the New York Times reported in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, saving pets is a priority for many people in times of disaster. And it’s not just ordinary folks helping our four-legged friends, the Federal government has gotten involved in animal rescue as well.
Paul Tashjian — a fellow John Jay College alum and friend of mine — works for FEMA. He has direct experience working with animal rescues during disasters. During a deployment to West Virginia to deal with floods, he was named the Task Force Leader of an initiative called “Animal Sheltering within the Mass Care Group.” That’s government-speak for “helping animals find a place to live during a disaster.”
He told us that FEMA recognized a need to help pets in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He said “Katrina revealed to the Emergency Management community that, absent a plan to include pets in general population evacuation and sheltering plans, pet owners may not abide by official evacuation orders. The problem is that pet owners put themselves, their pets, first responders, and rescue crews at peril by these actions. FEMA mandated the inclusion of pet planning as a result of the PETS Act of 2006.”
During his stint as Task Force Leader he says established two goals: “The first was to harness all available Federal resources to ensure the welfare of displaced pets; and second, to establish open lines of communication between all stakeholders. I set up and moderated a daily conference call with important stakeholders including the USDA/APHIS, the USDA Animal Care Group, the American Humane Organization, NARSC, the ASPCA, the WV Dept. of Agriculture, County Emergency Managers, and local Humane Association leadership.”
Paul said he saw some terrific outcomes: “One of the greatest challenges the Humane Organizations faced was managing the abundant donations that were flooding in from all over the country from the likes of Purina, PetSmart, and numerous charitable organizations. Literally tons of pet food and supplies were arriving, mostly unannounced, and there was a mad scramble to secure storage space to warehouse the goods.”
Another positive he noted: “Humane Society shelter populations dropped to levels below what they were pre-disaster. Among the many reasons for this positive trend, the Humane Society of the United States facilitated the redistribution of shelter population to shelters outside of West Virginia including the transfer of 62 animals — both cats and dogs — to two shelters in upstate New York.”
He was told that three months following the onset of the West Virginia flooding, pet shelter populations were lower than they were pre-disaster, despite the significant spike immediately following the onset of the floods. Paul said: “Pet lovers from across the nation responded to the need for finding ‘forever homes’ for our four-legged companions.”
Paul’s advice to pet owners in times of disaster: “Prepare! Have at the ready a week’s supply of food and medications, more if the pet meds might be hard to access following a disaster. Have an exit strategy, both transportation and destination if you’re required to evacuate. A Sheraton is better than a shelter, a Hilton better than a hostel, and an always full tank of gas goes a lot further than… !” And as tough as this sounds, Paul added: “Assume there will be no help at your destination and that you must fend for yourself and four legged companions.”
Here’s Urban Dog’s quick read on disaster preparedness for you and your pet.
Here’s more from FEMA and disaster preparedness for pets.
Storms like Harvey and Irma put literally hundreds of thousands of pets in danger. Check with your local rescue organizations to learn how you can help. Urban Dog has given money to: Big Dog Ranch and the Humane Society in Florida, El Faro in Puerto Rico, and North Shore Animal League America in New York.