Sep 08, 2009
Seeing the California wildfires in the news over these past two weeks has really got me thinking about things that I can do to help. In any disaster, man-made or natural, people and their pets are affected in a number of ways.
Thankfully, the severe storm season of 2005, when Hurricanes Rita and Katrina came ashore, taught us some needed lessons about handling animals during disasters. A direct result of those storms was a piece of legislation known as the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, or PETS Act. This bill, which was signed into law in October of 2006, directs states to have contingency plans in place to handle both people AND their pets in the event of a disaster. Failure to do so could mean a loss of federal monies.
Also, the plight of our pets during catastrophes was highlighted. Merial, a prominent veterinary pharmaceutical company, began a program to put a spotlight on pets’ needs. This program is called Paws To Save Pets and their purpose is three-fold. First, they provide funding for disaster preparedness training. Next, in the event of a disaster, they are prepared to provide needed monies for medications and shelters. Finally, this program helps animal shelters and veterinarians rebuild and restock after disaster strikes. They partner with the American Veterinary Medical Foundation and the PetFinder.com Foundation to raise the money needed. In just four years, they have raised more than $3 million!!
But, it’s really up to you, the individual pet owner, to be prepared for any kind of emergency. You can start by having a “pet disaster and evacuation kit” ready in your home. Things to include in this kit might be:
1-2 weeks supply of food for all pets
Supply of clean drinking water
1-2 weeks supply of any needed medications
Pictures of your pet
Leashes (also a muzzle)
List of contact numbers (veterinarians, friends, local shelters)
Letter authorizing treatment of your pets in your absence.
In the event of a mandatory evacuation, don’t leave your pets behind. You may think that you will only be gone for 1-2 days and your pets will be fine, but a short evacuation could turn into a weeklong affair. It’s always best to take your friends with you!
All of this talk about the upcoming hurricane season along with the impending wildfire season out West has piqued my “volunteer spirit”. During Katrina, I was anxious to head south and go help with the animal rescues, but, working in a veterinary hospital 50 hours per week made that difficult. Now that I work from home, I am excited to see if I can join a Disaster Response team, like American Humane’s Red Star Animal Emergency Services or even one of the AVMA’s Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams (VMATs).
So, I am proud to announce that I have started with online courses offered by FEMA on how to understand our national emergency plans and Incident Command Systems. As I complete those courses, I am looking forward to disaster training with the American Humane Association.
I certainly hope that we, as humans, can learn to avoid many of the disasters that we create (oil spills, explosions, fires), but in the event that someone makes a mistake, I want to be ready to be on the front lines!