Save the pets: How did animals fare in Harvey, Irma?
Friday, September 29, 2017
We all love our pets, but sometimes amid the evacuation panic caused by hurricanes, pet safety takes a back seat to other preparations.
No doubt, Hurricane Katrina taught us much about how to prepare for disasters. You may not know this, but Katrina's aftermath prompted a large federal study that targeted 17 specific lessons learned. This includes animal care.
To summarize this animal care lesson: Local, state and federal agencies need to better coordinate preparedness efforts for people with household pets and service animals. In the fall of 2006, the PETS Act was passed, which provides federal funds to states and counties for pet-related work in disaster mitigation and preparedness. These kinds of efforts include animal-inclusive evacuation plans and animal-friendly shelters.
So, given that these federal initiatives have been in effect for more than a decade, how well did we do this time around when it comes to pet care during the hurricanes?
If you watched media coverage during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, you see how passionate some people get about the topic. And we can witness the range of activities undertaken as reports come in from both storms.
For example, among other relief efforts, the Miami Heat teamed up with the Golden State Warriors to airlift more than 100 dogs and cats to no-kill shelters in Oakland, California. Hurricane pet care has grown into quite a passion for many, and it is now backed by stricter laws and more on-the-ground action in favor of our favorite animals.
People are so adamant about the pet issue that in post-Irma Palm Beach County, Florida, pet owners are being held legally responsible for abandoning their dogs. More than 100 dogs were abandoned in Palm Beach County during Hurricane Irma alone. Some dogs were turned in, while others were left in cages, tied to cars and even set loose to wander in communities.
Several people are facing felony charges for animal cruelty, according to Palm Beach County's State Attorney office. Hotels up and down the coast allowed animals, so authorities see no good excuse for animal abandonment.
The Texas Animal Health Commission is the state's animal-focused coordinating agency for disaster response. During Harvey, the commission conducted assessments on ground and in the air. By Sept. 5, the commission had covered 15 counties and had provided care to more than 2,000 impacted animals.
There are many activities coordinated response teams can accomplish, including:
- rescuing animals stuck in water
- coordinating teams to work at animal shelters
- checking on pets at human shelters
- caring for search-and-rescue dogs
- recovering wayward livestock
- networking with veterinarians before the hurricane hits
- organizing pet fostering opportunities
- helping veterinarians with flooded offices
- reuniting owners with pets after everything settles down
All of these successful efforts are model examples moving forward. The key here is for veterinarians to be involved in all aspects of local emergency management plans. Florida allows out of state veterinarian volunteers to apply for a 30-day temporary license — making it easier to coordinate recovery efforts post-Irma.
There are ongoing post-Irma recovery needs as well: temporary Georgia shelters took in 1,600 horses and 600 pets that will be returned home in optimal circumstances. Also, ongoing animal search-and-rescue teams exist — especially in the Miami and Jacksonville areas.
Whether it should be a felony to tie Fido up and abandon Fluffy as people evacuate hurricanes might remain controversial. But we can all agree on one thing: The fewer abandoned animals during natural disasters, the better. And veterinarians have already shown us they are key players in reducing animal harm during hurricanes.
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