Floods. Hurricanes. Wildfires. 2017 has been catastrophic for many of our friends and neighbors. Thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes: unable to return to their jobs, their schools and their lives for weeks, if not months. It’s quite hard to imagine, actually. From food and clothing and bedding and my kid’s favorite lovey and prescriptions and new glasses and and and and and...the logistics must be overwhelming.
What happens to our pets in all this mess? If we’re lucky enough not to live in the danger zone, how do we help those that do? In this post, I’ll tackle the first question. I’ll answer the second question in the next blog post, so stay tuned for that.
As a reminder for new readers (welcome!), I’ve worked in animal welfare since the early aughts; first in humane societies and rescue in Florida, Texas, and California; now in rehoming support for families and pets throughout the US. This is my experience of how pets move through the community during and after a disaster.
Pets residing within the disaster area
- Animal shelters are closed and/or evacuated if necessary. In the event of an evacuation, other shelters and rescues outside of the disaster area volunteer to number of the pets at the evacuated shelter. Remember that each of these shelters and rescues is an independent organization. They are not related to one another and not related to any national organization. As you might imagine, there’s an intense amount of coordination that needs to happen quickly among these differing institutions, each with their own policies and leadership. “Animal people”, as I like to call the hardworking, creative, compassionate folks who work and volunteer for homeless pets, are excellent at making it happen. They work together to help as many pets and people as possible and they make it happen fast. Here’s the SPCA of Texas account of local agency collaboration during Hurricane Harvey.
- Pet owners who have been evacuated from their home may go to a shelter that accept pets or board their pet temporarily while they find housing. Pets aren’t accepted at Red Cross shelters, but thankfully pets are more commonly accepted at some county shelters for evacuees. This varies by state and by county. When pet owners are not able to find a pet-friendly shelter, a local humane society or shelter will typically step in to provide for local pets. For example, Marin Humane Society is providing emergency boarding for pets of the Northern California wildfire evacuees.
- As soon as it is safe to do so, animal control officers (ACOs) and other trained personnel work round-the-clock to patrol the disaster area and answer calls for rescue of stray and injured pets. As with firefighters, it’s not uncommon for ACOs to travel from hundreds of miles away to help.
- Depending on the extent of the damage incurred by the disaster, veterinary resources within the immediate area may be limited or not available. Injured stray animals are then transported to a neighboring community for treatment if possible. The nonprofit agency receiving these animals pays for the cost of treatment and recovery given that the pet is a stray.
Pets residing outside of but near to the disaster area
- Now the shelter pets from the evacuated area have been accepted at other local shelters. These shelters outside the disaster area probably had to quickly make space for more pets by calling on all available foster homes and creating makeshift space (portable kennels, for example) for extra animals in the shelter.
- These surrounding communities now have less total capacity for animals, for as long as the disaster area shelters remain uninhabitable. Also, there are more animals in the system because of the pets who require emergency boarding and the stray pets that continue to come in from the disaster area. These are animals that would not require shelter space otherwise, but now do. All resources- space, labor, money, supplies- are strained.
- Shelters and rescues may hold extra fundraising drives and events to help cover the cost of the extra labor, pet supplies, and medical support needed during and after a disaster. I’ll share more about that in the next post.
Does any of this relate to Wagaroo? Absolutely. Given the new resource challenges in the community, there will be fewer shelter and rescue spaces available for pets who need to be rehomed. Owner surrender waitlists grow because life is still happening that is totally unrelated to the disaster: someone loses a job and has to relocate to an apartment that doesn’t allow the 50-pound family dog; a senior parent dies and there is no family available to take in the resident kitty cat. Crises like this happen to loving pet owners every day. Wagaroo’s Family2Family program is available to help during these times, as a free support to the rehoming owners and to the shelters without space to offer.
We all know that recovery goes on long after a disaster occurs. The effects of a hurricane, earthquake, or wildfire are felt in a community for years after the catastrophic event. How should we decide where to donate our time and our dollars to help? That’s the question I’ll answer in my next post!
Have you experienced a natural disaster with your pets? I’d be very interested in hearing your story if you are ready to share it. I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aroo and thanks for reading!
PS Let's all pledge to get prepared for an emergency before it happens: http://www.redcross.org/get-help/how-to-prepare-for-emergencies/pet-disaster-preparedness
This is my cat, Theo. He woud definitely hide under the bed if we were trying to evacaute.