Raining, Cats and Dogs

While plans have often been made for evacuating and sheltering people in the event of disasters, considerations for the evacuation and sheltering of pets and service animals have often been overlooked. To that measure, and in response to the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006, passed in the aftermath of Katrina, communities are increasingly incorporating considerations for animals in their plans for disaster response.

Observes Jamie Kanski, co-founder of Central Oregon’s Pet Evacuation Team and participant in the post-Katrina pet rescue effort in New Orleans, "I will never forget. People were told they had no choice but to leave their pets behind. They were told to leave them in a bathroom with food and water and that they'd be allowed to go back for them in a 'few days.' But I arrived two weeks later and I can tell you we saw a horrible, horrible situation with animals trapped in houses. It was terrible."

Rather than leaving pets behind, efforts are increasingly being made to engage in co-location, by identifying facilities capable of providing shelter to both humans and their animals. In cases where this isn’t possible, nearby animal shelters are being planned, so as to ensure separation between owners and their pets is as short as possible, and efforts are being made to incorporate the skills and expertise of those who work closely with animals — veterinarians, humane societies, animal shelters, and municipal animal-control agencies.

Notes Curtis Peetz, direct services support manager for the American Red Cross' Cascades Region, which serves Oregon and southwest Washington, “the time to plan is now, in a non-emergency setting," Peetz said. "We're having these conversations now because we know that for many people, pets are family and they won't leave them behind.”