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Remember Furry Friends in Emergencies

'Anytime we have an emergency situation, this truck will roll up for people to bring their pets.'

by Brandi Brown, The Sanford Herald, N.C. / October 8, 2015
Laura Collins a volunteer veterinarian at Seer Farm looking after dozens of pets displaced by Hurricane Sandy await while their owners try to find a pet-friendly place to live while their homes are restored. Liz Roll/FEMA

(MCT) - Emergencies for humans are emergencies for pets, too — and making plans before disaster strikes could be the difference between life and death.

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reported rescuing more than 8,000 pets lost and abandoned during the storm. The unexpected need to house and care for these animals led to the passage of the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act in 2006.

“PETS basically says that FEMA won't have to reimburse any county without a plan in place for how to handle pets in a disaster,” said Melissa Lucas, owner of Sanford-based Come, Sit and Stay dog-training service and a presenter for FEMA's Community Emergency Response Team.

“Lee County does have this great plan in place,” Lucas continued. “It's just that I'm not sure everyone knows it's out there or what to do in case of a disaster. With Katrina, you had people who wouldn't leave their homes because they didn't know what to do with their dogs, especially if they couldn't afford or find a hotel that allowed pets. They wouldn't leave the animals, and it was a dangerous situation.”

Lee County's plan calls for co-location sheltering, which Lee County veterinarian and Board of Health Chair Diane Schaller said is a win-win situation. In case of a natural disaster, San-Lee Middle School is an emergency shelter for people, while animals can go next door to Southern Lee High School. Lee County Emergency Management has a transport truck that is equipped with carriers and plastic sheeting along the sides for sanitary purposes, Lucas said. The truck can hold dogs and cats.

“Anytime we have an emergency situation, this truck will roll up for people to bring their pets,” Lucas said. “The beauty of co-sheltering is that people can go next door to help feed and care for their animals. It helps the shelter because they'll need volunteers, and [it] lets people know their pets are OK.”

Schaller said while the transport truck, called CAMET, has 60 carriers, she strongly encourages people to bring their own kennels or carriers.

"They'll do better if they have their own carriers," she said. "Bringing a blanket or towel with a familiar smell just makes it easier on the animals. There is such a great mental health aspect to co-location sheltering, and we're really lucky in Lee County to have such a great plan with support and the CAMET."

Lori Resnick, executive director of Carolina Animal Rescue & Adoption (CARA), said one of the biggest steps people can take in a disaster is to ensure pets can be identified easily in case they are lost.

Resnick and Lucas both encourage microchipping.

“Microchip your animals,” Lucas said. “I want to really stress that. You need to have your animal chipped to make it easier for rescue workers or animal control to help identify who you are.”

But don't forget the basic step of getting a collar and ID tag, Resnick said.

“Remember, the average citizen who finds your pet won't be able to scan for a chip,” she said. “But they will probably be able to read a basic tag. The most common forms of ID are collars and ID tags, which can be made on the spot at both the Sanford Petco and the Sanford PetSmart. Pet owners need to ensure correct names and cellphone numbers so you can be reached directly.”

Both Lucas and Resnick said that having a disaster-preparedness bag for pets is important. The bags should have enough food and water to last for several days. Bring along any bowls, toys or blankets that will be familiar to your animal, they advised, and be sure to pack harnesses, leashes and carriers that will be secure enough for moving possibly frightened cats and dogs.

Medical information also is helpful, both Resnick and Lucas said. They recommended keeping a copy of recent veterinary records and vaccination information on hand at all times, bringing those documents to the emergency transport and keeping a copy in case veterinary care is needed during the disaster.

For larger animals, such as cattle and sheep, disaster planning requires a different set of steps. Resnick said anyone who has larger animals should have a evacuation and contingency plans in place for them. In the best-case scenario, there should be enough vehicles to transport the animals properly, and people also should know what they will do if the animals cannot be transported during a disaster. Ensure that they have shelter, bedding, food and water, as well as somewhere to get away from cold temperatures or wind, Resnick said.

The goal of the emergency pet plan, Lucas said, is to help people feel confident about animals' safety during a storm. Those who become separated from their pet are advised to look to Facebook groups like “Lost & Found Dogs/Cats – Sanford, NC,” as well as pages for animal rescues in the area.

“Social media works,” Lucas said. “Be sure to use it if you get separated.”

Resnick suggests going online to check for places that allow travel with pets before planning an evacuation route, and checking with friends and family in advance if they are part of a relief plan. Experts also advise people to call their veterinarian's office to see if it houses animals in emergency situations. Websites, such as www.BringFido.com and www.PetsWelcome.com, can help with locating possible lodgings.

“If your environment or home is not safe for people, then it's not safe for your pets,” Resnick said. “They are your responsibility.”

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©2015 The Sanford Herald (Sanford, N.C.)

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