Disaster preparedness for animals

Natural and human induced disasters can negatively impact companion animals, horses, and livestock. Therefore, owners must consider the needs of their pets and larger animals and develop a disaster preparedness plan to increase survival chances in case tragedy strikes. According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), disasters have increased fivefold over the last 50 years, yet animals’ needs are often overlooked during disasters. 

To address this issue, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Reps. Dina Titus (D-NV) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Sens. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH). The measure was subsequently signed into law by President Joe Biden on Oct. 17. The Planning for Animal Wellness (PAW) Act, H.R.7789/S.4205, promotes collaborative relationships among government agencies and outside experts to include pets in disaster planning. 

This legislation will prompt the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assemble an expert panel to review current emergency and natural disaster best practices for animals, and issue new informed guidance, if applicable.

This article highlights animal disaster preparedness innovations and recommends actions for your clients facing these situations. 

Organizations dedicated to saving animals during disaster situations

When disasters strike, animals can be separated from their families and may face dangerous situations. Fortunately, several organizations are dedicated to protecting and helping to save animals in disaster affected communities. The organizations include:

  • American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) — The ASPCA’s Field Investigations and Response team is well-known for their animal cruelty investigations, but the ASPCA also has a disaster response team who assists communities and organizations affected by natural disaster with boots on the ground.
  • The Global Alliance for Animals and People — This organization partners with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to provide medical care and temporary shelter for displaced animals and works with local government agencies to develop disaster preparedness plans for animal owners.
  • The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) — The Humane Society's U.S. disaster relief teams handle large-scale situations, and provide rescue assistance, veterinary care, and temporary shelter for animals. They also help animal owners plan ahead for a natural disaster.
  • World Animal Protection — The World Animal Protection helps communities worldwide with on-site support after disasters, and along with local agencies, the organization supplies veterinary care, food, and shelter for displaced animals until they can be reunited with their guardians. 

States coordinating disaster response for animals

Some states are taking innovative action to coordinate animal disaster responses, such as:

  • California — The University of California, Davis, in collaboration with California legislators, veterinarians, and community leaders, administers an emergency rescue program for animals in disasters. The California Veterinary Emergency Team, which receives a $3 million budget allocation, recruits, trains, and supports a network of government agencies, individuals, and organizations to aid domestic pets and livestock during emergencies. The team also recruits and trains volunteers, conducts research, and trains veterinarians and veterinary students on best practices in shelter and emergency medicine.
  • Florida — The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is the lead agency responsible for animal and agricultural emergencies. The agency collaborated with the University of Florida (UF) Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, UF College of Veterinary Medicine, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop the State Agricultural Response Team (SART) as a planning, training, and response support group. SART orchestrates effective and coordinated incident responses for disaster-affected animals in Florida.
  • Texas — The Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) provides veterinary support to urban search and rescue teams and resident animals when the Texas A&M Task Force or county jurisdictions request their disaster response. During these missions, veterinary students are trained in emergency preparedness and response.

Disaster preparation tips for pet owners

A 2021 ASPCA survey revealed that 83% of current pet owners live in a community affected by natural disasters. Encourage your clients to prepare for their pets’ safety before a disaster, remind them that conditions unsafe for humans are not safe for pets, and emphasize that they should never leave pets behind during a disaster. Recommendations for pet owners include:

  • Schedule a veterinary appointment — Pets’ vaccinations should be kept up to date, and pet owners should have a copy of their pet’s medical records and a sufficient supply of medications, if their pet has a medical condition.
  • Identify their pet — Pets should be microchipped to increase their chances of being returned if they go missing and should always wear a collar and identification tags with your current contact information.
  • Create a pet disaster preparedness kit — Pet owners should assemble a disaster kit that includes necessary pet supplies (e.g., food, water, bowls, pet first aid kit, cleaning supplies, bedding, litter, litter box, extra leash and collar, treats, toys, current pet picture), and keep the kit in a convenient location in case they need to evacuate.
  • Plan ahead — Pet owners should research hotels, shelters, and boarding facilities that will accept pets during an emergency, and ensure they have a carrier or crate to transport their pet.

Disaster preparation tips for horse owners

A horse’s size, nature, and transportation needs make disaster preparedness especially important. Recommendations for horse owners include:

  • Schedule a veterinary appointment — Equine vaccinations and Coggins should be kept up to date, and a copy of their medical records kept on hand. If a horse has a medical condition, the owner should have a sufficient medication supply.
  • Identify their horse — Horses should be microchipped or branded and the chip or brand appropriately registered.
  • Create a horse disaster preparedness kit — Horse owners should keep supplies, such as food, water, extra lead ropes and halters, first aid supplies, and blankets, in a convenient location in case they need to evacuate.
  • Ensure they can transport their horse — Horse owners should ensure their truck and trailer are appropriately maintained and that their horse is trained to load on command.
  • Plan ahead — Horse owners should determine an evacuation route and research possible shelter sites suitable for their horse.

Disaster preparedness is important to save animals during these frightening and dangerous situations. The recently enacted federal measure will hopefully provide needed guidance on best practices to help animals in emergencies. 

About the author

Dr. Jenny Alonge received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Mississippi State University in 2002. She completed an internship in equine medicine and surgery at Louisiana State University and joined an equine ambulatory service in northern Virginia, where she practiced for almost 17 years. Alonge later decided to make a career change in favor of more creative pursuits and accepted a job as a veterinary copywriter for Rumpus Writing and Editing in April 2021. She adopted two unruly kittens, Olive and Pops, in February 2022.

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