Every year we hear concerns about “an active hurricane season” or “perfect” conditions for wildfires.  These natural disasters can devastate families, including our pets.  Recently, we were all faced with the possibility of Hurricane Earl affecting our area.  But, legislation, along with a national campaign to proactively prepare for disasters, has not only provided needed relief and comfort, it’s helped keep families together!

No one will ever forget the images of a hurricane ravaged Gulf Coast or the bleak desolation of a wildfire.   Media inundates us with pictures of human misery and also the suffering and plight of the animals.  Abandoned pets, forcible separations, and video of dogs and cats desperate to survive have now been etched deeply into our memories.

After the disastrous 2005 hurricane season, new legislation mandating the accounting for people’s pets in disaster plans was proposed and enacted.   The Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS Act) was signed into law in 2006.   This bi-partisan initiative insures that any state asking for federal assistance in emergency situations must have plans for accommodating pets and service animals during evacuations.

During Katrina, our hearts were broken by stories of families forced to leave pets behind because shelters were not equipped to handle animals.  Although we cheered the rescue of many pets that then ended up in other states including Massachusetts, we also mourned with owners who never knew whether or not their furry friend survived.  The PETS Act is just one step to help insure that the entire family can stay together.

To help finance and support relief efforts, individuals within the veterinary industry started the “Paws to Save the Pets” campaign.  Sponsored and supported by veterinary pharmaceutical leaders, this program has helped to raise $3 million in donations.  These monies are divided equally between the PetFinder.com Foundation and the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) in support of their relief efforts for future disasters.

The mission of Paws to Save Pets is three-fold.  First, since disasters can happen anywhere at any time, this effort helps fund educational and training processes about disaster preparedness and relief.

Next, Paws to Save Pets is able to provide an infrastructure on both national and local levels to help provide emergency relief when disasters do happen.

Finally, the program also provides reimbursements to shelters and veterinarians to aid in rebuilding efforts.  Overall, the Paws to Save Pets mission is best summarized in just three words:  Ready, Respond and Rebuild.

The initial campaign was known as the Race to Save Pets and involved the participation of more than 3,000 veterinary clinics nationwide.  Leaders within the veterinary community estimate that more than 17,000 animals were helped by the efforts.  Since that time, funding has been granted to veterinarians rebuilding after Midwest floods and tornados in Tennessee.  In addition, the main corporate sponsor of the program, Merial, has donated more than $50,000 in products and sponsored many disaster training grants.

But beyond new laws and the generosity of veterinary pharmaceutical firms, disaster planning needs to start with the pet owner.   Being prepared for the types of emergencies common in your area can be a life-saver to your pet.  National veterinary organizations, have created public websites to inform pet owners of the best ways to keep their pets safe during natural disasters.    First and foremost, if you are ordered to evacuate your home, you should plan to take your pets with you.   Even anticipated short evacuations can turn into week long absences.  Other recommendations include maintaining proper identification on your pets, preparing evacuation kits, and obtaining pertinent medical records from your veterinarian.

Returning home after a natural disaster has its own important issues to prepare for as well.   If you have taken your pet with you, realize that many usual landmarks and familiar items may be changed or missing from their environment.   Surveying your home for broken glass, metal shards, or even contaminated water will help to protect your loved one. 

Keeping current photographs of your pets are essential if you cannot take your pet, or if your pet runs off after returning home.  These pictures can be used to create “lost” posters for distribution.   Checking the local shelters and animal control facilities daily is a vital means to being reunited with your pet.  Finally, inform your neighbors and your family veterinarian about your missing friend.

Following a few common-sense steps as well as planning to take your pet with you in the event of an evacuation may help to prevent physical trauma to your pet as well as emotional upheaval to you.   Be sure to visit our Pet Health Library.  To learn more about donating to help pets during disasters, visit www.pawstosavepets.com.