Pet Rescuers. When wildfires ravaged the West Coast, animals rescuers are on the spot leading horses and livestock to safety. When floods drown the Midwest, they are there rescuing pets and finding temporary shelters for them. When hurricanes and tornado’s devastate entire communities, once again they appear to provide relief and rescue. “They” are the thousands of volunteers who put aside their jobs and family to help save pets and other animals when disaster strikes.
Although pet loving volunteers are generally available to provide relief, the flurry of storms and wildfires have taught us that disaster responders and temporary shelters are often unprepared to cope with both people AND their pets. Many animal welfare groups and official Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams (VMAT’s) are available to lend aid, but coordinated efforts with authorities is often lacking. Recently, a meeting between the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition (NARSC), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and many other groups has led to a proposed plan to incorporate the NARSC members into emergency operations in the event of a large scale disaster. This means that there will be an increased level of awareness, coordination and efficiency for dealing with animals during these tragic situations.
Many of these rescue teams are also prepared to help with large groups of pets freed from puppy mills and other criminal activities, such as dog fighting kennels and animal hoarding cases. These animal rescuers are unpaid volunteers who are willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary to help four-legged victims of disasters.
Red Star Animal Emergency Services, for example, has a roster of over 100 volunteers who have undergone intense training and are able to help with urban searches, flood recovery tasks, and also offer veterinary surgery ability in their specialized “Rescue Rig”. The American Humane Association also sees that their volunteers complete on-line training through FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute.
Other than the need for manpower on site, disasters often mean that local shelters, veterinarians, and other animal agencies are low on medicine and supplies. In addition to logistical and delivery problems, purchasing and delivering relief supplies is also a major challenge. Both the pet and veterinary industries have stepped up to the plate responding to requests for funding and support through public awareness. After the horrific storms a few years ago, a group called the Paws to Save Pets program was created by Merial® along with the Petfinders.com Foundation and the American Veterinary Medical Foundation. Initially a simple fund raising response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Paws to Save Pets has grown into a multi-level support system. They provide disaster preparedness training, respond to local and national emergencies, and offer finances needed to rebuild and restock veterinary clinics in disaster zones.
As pet owners, following some of the same principles helps to ensure the safety of your loved ones, both two and four legged so that evacuation plans are set in the event of an emergency. Ideas to help owners prepare a “pet disaster pack” can be found online and your veterinarian can also offer sound advise and good tips. Talk to your veterinarian and ask for a copy of your pets records and be sure your pet has accurate ID tags so that you won’t be caught unprepared should disaster strikes. Just like people, pets and livestock are often victims of natural catastrophes and man-made emergencies. Now, thanks to dedicated volunteers, our pets have their very own corps of “first responders”.