Ten years ago, the nation and the world were horrified by the catastrophic loss of human life and property as a result of Hurricane Katrina. The human record was devastating. But the same was true of the thousands of pets on the entire Gulf Coast. Year estimates that 250,000 dogs and cats were displaced or died by the storm.
Animal rescue groups rushed to the scene and pledged to face the intimidating challenge of saving as many lives as possible. The ANIMAL WELFARE ASSOCIATION worked in close collaboration with the SPCA of Louisiana and the Humane Society of South Mississippi, sending dedicated employees to work on the field for two years and contributing million in subsidies for rescue, association and shelter efforts.
Working with our partners, we have helped bring more than a thousand pets together with their owners and transported more than 7,500 unsheltered and displaced animals to the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, Louisiana, dedicated to their care.
Despite weeks of continuous work by speakers and volunteers, gaps in the process have prevented us from being even more effective. It became clear that new organizational and lawful approaches were required fixed in order to move ahead of the next major disaster, and true to form—we did not delay.
Less than a year after the storm, two groups were formed with official support and participation from the ASPCA: the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition (NARSC) and the National Alliance of Emergency Programs for Animal and Agriculture (NASAAEP). These coalitions are dedicated to improving communication between animal welfare organizations, state agencies, and emergency volunteers. They also organize in-depth training in the country on topics such as rescue in overflow and arson, first aid for pets, proper handling of animals, and protection from and evaluation of animals.
At the federal level the legislation has, two laws passed by Congress—the Law on the standards for the disposal and transportation of pets (PET) and the Law on the reform of the management of the emergency room after Katrina-have been added to the existing federal guidelines for disaster planning and have ordered FEMA to act as the lead agency for the animals involved in the disasters caused by the federal government. These laws not only save lives, but also put animal safety in its rightful place among other natural disaster priorities.
Another recently proposed measure, the Animal Emergency Planning Act, would force companies that house pets—including breeders, research facilities, zoos, pet carriers, and keepers—to create detailed emergency plans for animal care in the event of an emergency. These companies benefit or benefit from the animals; it is logical that they take full responsibility for the safety of the animals.
Legislative work is also underway at the state level. If you live in California, I urge you to join us and the American Red Cross to support AB 317, which will facilitate the establishment of vital shelters in the state’s emergency. We are working with the Red Cross to also find ways to find shelters and shelters together to keep families and their pets together during severe crises. AB 317 faces a critical final vote in the Senate next week before going to Governor Brown’s office for his consideration.
The rapid establishment of animal shelters is crucial. During Katrina, many existing shelters in Louisiana were transferred, making shelters the only available shelter in four parishes.
In New York, legislators recently passed a bill that allows veterinarians to walk across state lines to respond to pets in disasters and other crises. Since these unexpected events can often overwhelm local authorities, it is important to facilitate the rapid arrival of veterinarians from the state who specialize in protective medicine, forensic science, and emergency protocol. This bill is currently awaiting Governor Cuomo’s signature.
Of course, the greatest responsibility to keep animals safe and alive during disasters lies with their owners. If the owners do not take the necessary precautions, this puts them and their animals at risk. According to a survey by the Fritz Institute, 44 percent of New Orleans residents delayed or did not even leave the city during Hurricane Katrina because they refused to leave their pets behind. A similar national survey conducted by Lake Research Partners on behalf of the ASPCA found that 42% of Americans would not be themselves even without their pets.
Simple and inexpensive preparations can discourage owners from choosing between the life of their pets and their own. The history of important tips:
- Micro-chip your pets and make sure they wear collars and id tags with current contact information.
- Keep the current photos of your pets within reach.
- Set quick trip routes to your house and know the locations of local animal shelters, pet-friendly hotels, and friends who can monitor your pets for you.
- Put stickers on your windows so that rescuers know that pets currently live there. (Please remove them if there are no animals in it)
- Set up the year emergency kit, including pet owners, canned food, bowls, bottled water, first aid items, garbage bags, and blankets.
- The ASPCA also has a new, shareable infographic and a free mobile app to help owners prepare for disaster and find lost animals.
- While natural disasters still browbeat to devastate our lives, we must continue to learn from them and actively prepare for their impact. It is the best way to protect ourselves and those whose lives depend on us.