One of the many sad stories in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was how many pets had been killed, maimed, abandoned, and/or lost in the chaos that struck the Gulf Coast in 2005. One group estimates over 600,000 pets were killed or left homeless following Katrina. The endless snapshots of sad-eyed dogs and wild-eyed cats peering out from behind abandoned water-logged buildings was heartbreaking. So many people were separated from their pets that dozens of websites popped-up to share information about lost and found Katrina animals.
A big part of this problem stemmed from the fact that most of the emergency shelters simply did not allow pets. In the aftermath of Katrina, FEMA, the Red Cross, the Humane Society, and other community organizations took note of how many pets were separated from their owners. Clearly, this situation was not only unacceptable, but it was also preventable. With tremendous bipartisan support the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act was quickly passed in 2006, which made it mandatory for local and state governments to include plans for pets and service animals in their emergency procedures.
This 2006 Act, known by the convenient acronym PETS, allowed FEMA for the first time to allocate funds towards the welfare of animals in disaster zones. The PETS Act acknowledged what Hurricane Katrina made abundantly clear: when given a choice between their own personal safety or abandoning their family pets, a significant number of people will choose to risk their lives in order to remain with their pets. Now, local governments can recommend taking pets with the rest of the family (instead of leaving them behind with “ample food and water”), suggest animal-friendly shelters, and actually provide care for those pets — as well as include them in rescue operations.
The lessons learned from Katrina were apparent in New York as Hurricane Sandy sped menacingly toward shore. New York City quickly mandated that all city shelters and transit allow pets entrance leading up to and during the superstorm. “It is a model that we hope the rest of the nation follows in the future,” said Tim Rickey of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Since, so many people were able to evacuate with their pets during the build-up of this last superstorm, I hope far fewer sad-eyed dogs and wild-eyed cats will be spotted trying to make sense of a terrifying situation all alone in the streets of New York.
Image via Bald is Beautiful Dog Rescue