Yes, Evacuation Centers and Hotels Can Turn Away Pets During a Disaster

You probably saw — and were probably upset by — the photo of the heartbroken woman who was turned away from the temporary shelter at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center during Hurricane Harvey because she had her dog with her.

That woman and dozens of others who evacuated with their dogs and cats were told that animal services were not available, so they could not bring their pets inside.

Not about to abandon their beloved pets, all those people sat outside the convention center with them, barely sheltered from the storm.

And perhaps you heard about Gillian Parker and her family, who stayed inside their car with their three large dogs in a Holiday Inn Express parking lot after the hotel refused to budge on its no-pets policy during the hurricane. “I’m just chagrined, irritated, cold, wet, tired and exhausted,” Parker told People.

(Editor’s note: Holiday Inn Express responded to the Care2 petition on this matter by ensuring that pets would not be turned away at hotels in areas impacted by the hurricane and offering to waive the family’s fee.)

Like many other people on social media, I was appalled that these pet owners were turned away from a shelter and hotel, especially after what happened during Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago.

During that disaster, an estimated 250,000 dogs and cats were displaced or died, according to the ASPCA. In some cases, their owners who refused to leave them behind also died. In a 2006 poll, 44 percent of the people who chose not to evacuate said they made the decision because they refused to abandon their pets.

To prevent such a horrible tragedy from ever happening again during a disaster, legislation including the federal Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act was passed. This law, enacted in 2006, requires state and local emergency preparedness operational plans to address the needs of the owners of companion and service animals following a major disaster or emergency.

So, thanks to the PETS Act, wasn’t it illegal for the Houston convention center and Holiday Inn to turn away evacuee’s pets? The answer, surprisingly, is no. While the law’s required emergency preparedness operational plans do include “emergency shelter facilities and materials that will accommodate people with pets and service animals,” evacuation centers aren’t required to allow pets along with people.

The pets are cared for in those emergency shelter facilities by the staff from local animal shelters. In Houston, BARC, the city’s animal shelter, set up a trailer outside another no-pets evacuation center so pets could at least be close to, if not next to, their owners.

Fortunately, many evacuation centers do allow evacuees to keep their pets with them. Within a day, the George R. Brown Convention Center set up a designated area for pets. Less than two weeks later, when Hurricane Irma devastated Florida, shelters in several counties welcomed two-legged as well as four-legged evacuees.

AVOID BEING SEPARATED FROM YOUR PET DURING A DISASTER

It’s important for pet owners to be prepared for disasters and other emergencies, no matter where you live.

If you don’t want to be separated from your pet during a disaster, check your county’s emergency management office, local animal shelter and your city’s social media for the locations of evacuation centers that allow pets. Before a disaster strikes, it’s also a good idea to be aware of pet-friendly hotels in your area.

The ASPCA also recommends doing the following:

  • Prepare an emergency kit that includes a pet carrier (with your pet’s name, your name and your phone number written on it), canned food, bowls, bottled water, first-aid items, garbage bags and blankets.
  • Be sure your pet is microchipped and your contact information is up to date.
  • Your pet’s ID tag should include his name, any urgent medical needs and your phone number.
  • Keep current photos of your pet with you.

I know this goes without saying, but if at all possible, never, ever evacuate without your pets!

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

130 comments

Melania P
Melania P5 days ago

How sad, when will governments/organizations understand that pets are not just pets for some of us? They are family members!!! So sad, thanks for posting. We need change, people united can make the change!

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Paulo Rabout a month ago

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