When preparing for natural disasters, safety is the highest priority for any community. As many pet owners consider pets part of their family, it is important to educate residents on how best to care for pets before, during and after a disaster strikes.
Community Member Plans
As park and recreation professionals, you are experts at planning. Encourage community members to create an emergency preparedness plan long before a potential disaster occurs. This should, of course, include plans for pets. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), preparedness plans should include how pets will be cared for and where they will go. Residents should keep the following items on hand:
- At least five days of fresh water and pet food, as well as serving containers.
- Pet medicines and medical records (proof of vaccinations may be needed).
- Pet identification with owner name and contact information.
- Necessary equipment — transport carrier, leash, thin cloth to cover small cage, etc.
Evacuations can be stressful for animals, just as they are for humans. When it comes to pet shelters during emergencies, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states many disaster evacuation centers cannot accept pets because of states’ health and safety regulations. “Pets kept at human evacuation centers can sometimes pose a risk of disease or injury to other shelter inhabitants. In fact, service animals that assist people with disabilities are currently the only animals allowed in some evacuation centers.”
Some local agencies create pet friendly shelters in emergencies, such as Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department in Florida. However, space is limited, restrictions apply and proof of residency is required. Their website states, “The Pet Friendly Shelter is only available to Palm Beach County residents who reside in a mandatory evacuation zone, in a mobile home, or in sub-standard housing. All pets must be accompanied by only one owner who will stay inside the Pet Friendly Shelter. All other family members will need to stay at the adjacent human shelter. Pets will be housed in a separate area away from where people are sheltered; livestock and reptiles will not be accepted.”
In Albuquerque, New Mexico, Debbie Almager, director of Bernalillo County Parks & Recreation, states, “As part of our Emergency Management Team, pet shelters are set up near human shelters but in separate quarters in close proximity. Pet shelters fall under EF 6, which our Animal Service Department sets up. Our Parks & Recreation Department also falls under EF 6 with our community centers set up for human shelters. We do have a policy in place and have mock trainings throughout the year in which we set both up.”
To keep everyone safe, the CDC offers guidelines to help reduce risk of injury or disease if it is necessary to house pets in a public shelter. For more information, visit the CDC website.
If your agency has considered or is considering developing a disaster facility for pets, check out The Humane Society of the United States’ Disaster Planning for Animal Facilities.
Every disaster is different with its own specific challenges. Planning for emergency preparedness is key for agencies and residents. Have best practices on pet shelter policies you’d like to share? Go to NRPA Connect, log in and search for the thread, “How does your center handle pets during disaster situations?” to add your information.