Updated: Jul 28, 2020
When a crisis or disaster occurs, what happens to the animals? Animal shelters may be unprepared to take a sudden large number of animals who may be injured, frightened, or even traumatized. One organization, RedRover, is helping to address these emergency situations. One example is when a puppy mill is raided by law enforcement, and perhaps hundreds of animals suddenly need food, shelter, and care. RedRover is an organization of 4,000 volunteers. Their website describes what they do:
"RedRover Responders work in cooperation with law enforcement, local agencies and animal organizations to shelter and care for animals displaced by natural disasters or rescued in law enforcement seizures. Since 1987, we have cared for thousands of animals in the U.S. and Canada during more than 198 crises. Additionally, RedRover is a founding member of the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition (NARSC), established to increase the effectiveness of animal disaster response in the United States."
"RedRover specializes in setting up and operating temporary shelters when large numbers of animals are affected by storms, fires, floods, or other emergencies or when they’re rescued from large-scale cruelty situations such as puppy mills and hoarding cases."
As one RedRover volunteer from Arkansas put it, after helping when law enforcement raided a huge puppy mill, "The highlight of my deployment was holding a dog who was so desperate to have human contact, I could feel him melt into my chest."
Emergency & Disaster Pet Shelters
According to the National Geographic website, an article entitled "Katrina's Pet Legacy: Better Evacuation Plans..." they quote a recent survey conducted by the humanitarian organization, the Fritz Institute, saying that "44% of the storm’s victims who chose not to leave did so because they weren't willing to abandon their pets."
Even with the 44% who wouldn't evacuate without their pets, there was still the terrible problem of 15,000 pets that needed to be rescued. In 2010, the time of writing of that article, “only about 15% have been returned to their owners.”
This issue, of not evacuating, obviously impacts the lives of humans, their animals, and the safety of rescue workers, and has caused the passing of new laws in the U.S. Senate called the PETS Act (the Pets Evaluation and Transportation Standards). The Red Cross, which previously had an iron-clad "no pets allowed in shelters” policy, has redesigned their approach for how emergency shelters are to be run in the future. States that do not have pet shelter options will not be eligible for FEMA grants.
Emergency Pet Shelters
Various states have rushed to make plans for Emergency Pet Sheltering. In Honolulu, Hawaii, The American Red Cross partners with the Hawaiian Humane Society, to create Emergency Pet Shelters in case of emergency. This author is a volunteer for both organizations, and is an Emergency Pet Shelter Manager. In August of 2014, during a double-storm warning, we had our first drill creating a pet-friendly shelter adjacent to the human shelter at a high school, and dogs were successfully received at that overnight shelter operation.
Homeless People and Their Pets Need Shelter
In addition to pet shelters during disasters, there is a great need for shelters for the homeless who have pets. In a study by Michelle Lem et al., it is stated that on any given night there are approximately 150,000 homeless youth in Canada, many of whom have companion animals.
A study of these Canadian homeless youth with companion animals shows numerous benefits to their owners. One example of the benefits is that the sense of responsibility of caring for an animal. This causes them to not break the law or do drugs because of the fear of being separated from their animal. They know that homeless animals, who may look scraggly, will be euthanized without their protection. Homeless youth will often share what little food they have with their animal companion, and forego going to a shelter because they can’t bring their animals with them.
In this study, Lem states: “Youth consistently reported making choices to stay with their animal regardless of liabilities for their own health or success. Service providers should understand and support the significant human-animal bond that can exist for these homeless youth.”
It is hoped that more homeless programs and shelters in the future will make an area available to accommodate owners with companion animals.
The Red Cross Pet Disaster Preparedness Tips:
In an emergency, your pets will be even more dependent on you for their safety and well-being. Your family’s disaster plans must include your furry family members too. Learn what to do to keep your beloved pets safe!
If it’s not safe for you to stay in your home during an emergency, it’s not safe for them either! Never leave an animal chained up!
Include supplies for your pet in your emergency kit, or assemble an emergency kit for your pet. Make an evacuation plan for you and your pets. Many hotels and shelters do not accept animal guests, other than service animals.
Assemble an Emergency Kit for Your Pet
Keep items in an accessible place and store them in sturdy containers so that they can be carried easily. Your kit should include: Sturdy leashes, harnesses and/or carriers to transport pets safely and ensure that they can’t escape. Food, drinking water, bowls, cat litter/pan, and a manual can opener if your pet eats canned food. Medications and copies of medical records stored in a waterproof container. A first aid kit. Current photos of you with your pet(s) in case they get lost. Since many pets look alike, this will help to eliminate mistaken identity and confusion.Information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, behavior problems, and the name and number of your veterinarian in case you have to foster or board your pets. Pet beds and toys, if easily transportable.
The best way to protect your household from the effects of a disaster is to have a disaster plan. If you are a pet owner, that plan must include your pets. Being prepared can save their lives.
Know a Safe Place to Take Your Pets
If you have to evacuate your home during a disaster, the best way to protect your pets is to evacuate them too. If it's not safe for you to stay behind, then it's not safe to leave pets behind either. Know which hotels and motels along your evacuation route will accept pets in an emergency. Call ahead for reservations if you know you may need to evacuate. Ask if no pet policies could be waived in an emergency.
Make sure that your pet’s vaccinations are current and that all dogs and cats are wearing collars with securely fastened, up-to-date identification. Many pet shelters require proof of current vaccinations to reduce the spread of disease. Have your pet microchipped by your veterinarian.
Stay Safe! Keep your animals safe by planning!
Genie Joseph, PhD
Director: The Human-Animal Connection