The images were heart wrenching, nearly unbearable: barking dogs stranded on top of cars as water lapped at their feet. Furry faces peering out of windows from attics and second story bedrooms, trying to escape the rising waters. All anxiously waiting for their guardians to return. Just before Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, the mandatory evacuation was declared. Those who could, grabbed their two- and four-legged family members and fled to safety. Others had no choice but to leave food and water for their pets, hoping to see them again in a couple of days. Those who refused to abandon their pets, stayed to ride out the storm endangering their own lives. Later many were forced to leave their animals behind when rescuers wouldn’t let them aboard helicopters or boats. Survivors who had just lost everything also lost their best friends.
Since Hurricane Katrina, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) — just one of the many organizations that responded to the disaster — stated it rescued more than 8,200 animals, the largest animal rescue operation in U.S. history. Many of these animals were sent to rescue groups around the country, including here in Washington, and guardians still scan the rescued animal postings, trying to locate their displaced friends. More than two months later, animals were still being found, emaciated and near death.
This disaster not only showed how ill-prepared we were to properly evacuate and save human lives, but it underscored the profound strength of the human-companion animal bond. Thankfully, it moved some of our nation’s leaders to introduce a federal legislative bill recognizing that every evacuation plan must include pets. The bill is called the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS), H.R. 3858. It would require state and local governments to include pets and service animals in evacuation plans. Authorities must submit their plans to qualify for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. PAWS has joined the HSUS and other animal organizations in support of the PETS Act.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, PAWS joined the Snohomish County Disaster Task Force more than two years ago, and has also reached out to the city of Lynnwood and other local municipalities to offer guidance on how best local disaster plans can include animals.
PAWS supporters asked how they can make a difference for animals affected by this disaster. Many donated money directly to the national organizations on the ground and for our disaster relief collection at this year’s PAWSwalk. Others offered to open their homes for fostering animals being airlifted to Washington state and collected supplies needed to care for them. For all this, we thank you.
Now is the time to prepare for future emergencies, and plan how to minimize the impacts of such tragedies in our own community. Here’s what you can do:
The better prepared you are before something happens, the greater your chances are for keeping everyone safe. Here are some tips for your own disaster plan:
Keep supplies in an easy to carry, sturdy container. Keep the container in an easily accessible place, not in a basement. Include:
For more information and links to national disaster preparedness resources, visit www.paws.org.