Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Keeping Your Pet Safe In A Disaster (1)

Jack had found herself a perch on the second-floor window air-conditioning unit. Only a week before, that perch was twelve feet off the ground. Today, as Jack huddled miserably against the window pane, the floodwaters lapped against the side of the house only inches below her paws. Her human family had long-since evacuated her home, but she had been left to fend for herself. Exhausted, hungry and cold, she was among thousands of other animals left behind by their owners in the floods stemming from Hurricane Flood in September 1999.

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Every year the United States is host to dozens of disasters, large and small. Hurricanes and floods pose the biggest risk to our companion animals and yet, too often, people leave their non-human family members at home while the rest of the family evacuates to safety. Every year since 1916 the American Humane Association (AHA) has saved the lives of many animals like Jack. It's work that the Emergency Animal Relief staff of AHA does tirelessly and eagerly.

Yet, says AHA's manager of Emergency Animal Relief, Dick Green, "We shouldn't have to rescue so many pets from disasters in which owners had hours, or even days, to prepare. Preparation for a disaster should include companion animals." In the aftermath of Hurricane Flood, AHA sent rescue teams to work in three different states, in dozens of communities. Everywhere we went, in every flooded community, we found animals left behind, cats, dogs, birds, and hamsters. Animals that easily enough could have been taken with the family.

Part of the problem is that the American Red Cross shelters established for human evacuees do not accept pets, except for service animals for the handicapped. Because of this, AHA approached the Red Cross several times in the last six years to suggest that there may be ways to co-locate both families and their companion pets in special evacuation shelters. AHA provided a list of procedures which if employed, would allow the safe and responsible housing of both humans and companion animals. So far the American Red Cross has not changed their policy or entertained further discussion on the topic of protecting the families that include pets.

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However, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, fully 58 percent of American households include a dog or cat. Another concern is that public safety officials (fire/rescue, police, and emergency management) sometimes tell the public to evacuate without thier animals. This is typically done in situations where they feel that to delay evacuation, even for the few minutes it may take to load the family pet into the car, is more time than is safe for the family.

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