Pet Care During Natural Disasters

I noticed a few changes to protocol during the natural disaster that hit many of the eastern United States when Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast a few days ago. While these occurred in New York, I believe they should be made mandatory everywhere. Namely, how pets are treated during an evacuation.

Frankenstorm Brewing Up

Frankenstorm Brewing Up. Manhattan, Hurricane Sandy Photo by Reeve Jolliffe

Many people refuse to leave their pets behind. This is understandable as pets are a part of the family. Unfortunately, it puts the lives of both pets and pet owners at risk. It also endangers anyone who may have to go in and search for those who refused to leave. New York made two announcements that I believe made a difference in how many people willingly evacuated before Hurricane Sandy hit.

New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, announced that it was unlawful for cab drivers to turn away fares during the evacuation if the person had a pet. Taxis, the subway system, and trains all helped pets and their owners get to a safer place. Bloomberg also announced that evacuations shelters were set up to accept pets being accompanied by their owner as long as the pet was on a leash or in a carrier.

This may not seem like a critical announcement when the city was facing perhaps the worst storm in their history. Unless you’re a pet owner who worries as much about the safety of a pet as to your own personal safety.

Tim Rickey, Senior Director of the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team, stated “If your home isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your pet. Once you evacuate you never know when you’ll be back.” All of New York City’s 76 evacuation centers are accepting pets. There are currently over 400 pets now safe with their family. Many area hotels who normally frown on pets are being pet-friendly during this natural disaster.

Which brings us to micro-chipping. It won’t guarantee your pet will be returned, but it’s one of the best ways to locate an owner after a natural disaster. All vet clinics and shelters I’ve worked with have handheld micro-chip readers on site.

Someone on Facebook also set up a page for lost and found pets before the storm hit. This page is listed on Facebook under Sandys Pets. Not only are photos of lost and found pets listed, there are also links to articles telling residents where pet friendly evacuation shelters are located. I encourage the readers to take a look at how this page is set up. People are finding pets displaced by the storm. Instead of turning them into a shelter, these people are stepping up and publishing photos along with their contact information so the lost pet can be reunited with the owner. They already have several success stories posted on the page.

The Humane Society has been tweeting the locations of all animal friendly shelters in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

I haven’t read of any problems created by the animals. Chances are those in evacuation shelters who have their pets with them are in a better frame of mind just by knowing their pets are safe.

New York City has set the standard all areas need to follow when mandatory evacuation orders are given. All people have been asking for over the years has been to have peace of mind their pets are safe during a disaster. There’s no way to estimate the number of human lives that were saved with this simple change in policy.

I believe people need to stress to their respective towns and cities that this is how things should be done anytime there’s an evacuation where the safety of residents (as well as their pets) is at stake. Don’t wait until a disaster strikes and then find out your pets aren’t welcomed on public transportation or in evacuation shelters.

This can be checked on in your town (if you live in the U.S.) by contacting either your mayors office or a member of city/town/county council. If animals aren’t welcome, I encourage you to attend a council meeting. These are generally open to the public. If you’re unable to do this personally, talk to a council member who can bring this up at a future meeting. Safety of residents is one of the primary reasons we have these officials in the first place. It needs to be stressed that there are a lot of animal lovers who would question the order to evacuate their home if their dog or cat had to be left behind.

It’s also a good idea to keep a copy of your pets immunization records in a safe place where they can be found quickly should you ever have to evacuate. Remember to take any medications(for yourself as well as your pets) as well as food for your pet if you’re asked to leave your home. I don’t know whether these evacuation shelters were prepared to offer pet food, so have some with you just in case your shelter doesn’t. The same holds true if you’re going to a hotel. There may be grocery stores open, but pet food is sure to sell out fast. Also, during a power failure, some stores may not have generators to keep them going for long.

In closing, I’d like to recommend having some cash on hand if you must evacuate. With power failures, you may not be able to use a debit or credit card.

I hope these tips help and I hope none of you ever have to use them. Can any of you think of anything to add to this? Is anything going on in the news concerning the evacuation we need to be made aware of? Any helpful links to help those displaced by Hurricane Sandy?

Comments are welcome.


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Pet Care During Natural Disasters — 7 Comments

  1. First, I think this is a great article Elisa. Thank you for writing it for PoC.

    Second, I think New York seem to have set the standard for caring for companion animals during a natural disaster. There appears to have been a genuine concern for pets and they are really included in the evacuation.

    My mind goes back to the Japanese radiation leak after the tsunami. It appears that a lot of people evacuated while leaving their pets behind to fend for themselves. Perhaps the circumstances were different. But when people went back dogs and cats where wandering around scavenging amongst the wreckage – horrible.

    I just like to see pets treated in an identical way to humans under these circumstances.

    • I live in South Carolina and all we had was wind and cold. I went to 2 local businesses on my way to work Monday and the debit/credit card machines were malfunctioning at both places. I do know from experience that wind will slow them down. A lot of people don’t think about having cash on hand during an emergency. Don’t take the chance on a card reader functioning.

      I do hope towns will go ahead and approve of pets being allowed before an emergency actually happens. I know when my state has a true hurricane risk the interstate has all lanes going away from the ocean. So there’s plenty of time to evacuate. Many refuse to leave their homes if their pets can’t go.

      I hope the readers will have some more helpful tips.

      • America has far more extreme weather than the UK. Our biggest problem is avoiding depression because of the incessant grey skies and drizzle 🙂 I think we get a storm once every 10 years or something like that. America had a heat wave last summer and now it’s the storm season.

  2. I remember the hurricane in England back in the 80’s when 1 out of every 3 trees in the country fell down. I dont remember talk of pets at the time although to be fair I was quite young so I wasn’t reading the paper. I also don’t think England really has protocols for much in the way of weather. I’ve had my train cancelled when there’s a light bit of snow. Once they even said the train is cancelled due to “leaves on the track”. And the hot weather brings hosepipe bans pretty quickly too. England has very little emergency infrastructure I guess. But alot of English people have pets so things like evacuations and the such would have to follow the example of NY as Elisa has described in this great article. I think its fantastic that the mayor made way for peoples animals. What a good thing to do. What good thinking. It’s great, I really admire the fact. Even though America has some pretty medieval attitudes towards animals it also has very good ones at the same time. In this case what is so great is that the good attitudes prevailed when it was crucial. Great article, thanks.

  3. Good article. Elisa. I remember seeing the Japanese multi-disaster shelters and being impressed at the many people who were hugging their animals.

  4. Thank you Elisa for this excellent article.

    Just this year, I bought an extra halter/leash, folding carrier, litter pan, along with cat food and water that I keep in my car. These items can come in handy if I see a lost pet who needs help,or in the event of a disaster. I didn’t think about a copy of immunizations, but the most important one is rabies.

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