By ASPCA President & CEO Matt Bershadker
When a natural disaster ravages a community, the human impact is nearly unfathomable: people lose their homes, their communities, and their lives. But there are other victims as well—animals endangered by both the disaster and a lack of emergency planning leading up to it. Panicked and in a rush to evacuate their homes, many pet owners are forced to choose between their pets’ lives and their own.
Polls have shown that too many owners don’t have disaster plans in place, haven’t microchipped their pets, and don’t know what they would do with their pets in an evacuation. This is why September is National Preparedness Month, a reminder that, while disasters cannot always be foreseen, advance measures can be taken to save lives.
Last month alone, hundreds of animals were displaced by wildfires in Northern California and flooding in Southern Louisiana. Following the Louisiana floods, over 1,500 animals were evacuated to the same spot where nearly 7,500 animals were sheltered 11 years ago following Hurricane Katrina. In each of these cases, our Field Investigations and Response Team (FIR) responded to assist local efforts to find and rescue pets in distress. Collaborating with our partners, we were able to reunite many lost animals with their families, but the task would have been much easier and more effective if owners had learned and taken a few precautionary measures.
At the top of this list is having an emergency plan in place that ensures you won’t have to leave your pets behind, and making sure your pets have ID collars and updated microchips. Both are important to ensure your pet’s safety, and getting your pet microchipped is a painless and relatively inexpensive procedure.
Crucial recommendations for your emergency plan:
Make arrangements with friends and family who can take your pet during an emergency.Talk to your local veterinarian or animal shelter to identify the location of nearby emergency shelters and pet-friendly hotels.Prepare a pet emergency kit that includes food, water, medication, feeding dishes, water bowls, pet carriers, toys, recent photos of your pet, and important medical records.Place rescue alert stickers on your windows to let rescuers know pets are inside.
Remember: Any home unsafe for people is also unsafe for pets.
To help, we recently launched an ASPCA mobile app with information and resources for owners before, during, and after an emergency. It works without an internet connection, includes lost pet tools and tips, and allows pet owners to store microchip information and medical records necessary for boarding pets at evacuation shelters.
The tragic consequences of inaction are clear. During Hurricane Katrina, approximately 10,000 animals were evacuated, but less than half were ultimately reunited with their families. This disaster was a catalyst in elevating people’s understandings of the dangers posed to pets in natural disasters and the importance of including animals in community emergency response plans.
The new thinking led to the establishment of NARSC, the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition, in 2006. That same year saw passage of the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, which is designed to ensure state and local emergency preparedness operations address the needs of household pets and service animals following major disasters or emergencies.
Local and national welfare groups have stepped up to this challenge, but individual owners need to do their part to keep their pets—and themselves—safe. There’s no such thing as preparing too early when you consider the potentially devastating costs of acting too late, so please commit to your pet’s safety as you would your own.