Thirteen is an unlucky number when it comes to disaster preparedness for pets. When Hurricane Andrew struck Florida in 1992 at least 1,000 healthy pets were euthanized due to a lack of preparedness for animals and insufficient space to house them. Then, just six years ago and estimated 3 million farm animals and pets died in Hurricane Floyd. The devastation by Hurricane Katrina has yet to be tallied but hopefully will end the thirteen years of inadequate pet disaster preparations and bad luck for animal companions.
According to animal disaster preparedness expert and author Diana L. Guerrero, pet rescue efforts during disasters really didn’t gain momentum until after Hurricane Andrew. She said, “Even back then rescue agencies found that people were unwilling to evacuate with their animals. This remains true today. People will risk their lives and those of rescuers because they don’t want to abandon their furry family members. The only difference is that now the problem has escalated because pet ownership is up—over sixty percent of American homes houses pets and there is no excuse for overlooking that demographic.”
Guerrero, a resident of the San Bernardino Mountains, is the author of the booklet, "Animal Disaster Preparedness for Pet Owners & Pet Professionals" and is one of the contributing editors to "Resources for Crisis Management in Zoos and Other Animal Care Facilities, Volume I." Guerrero is currently working on project on crisis management scheduled for release in the summer of 2006.
In addition to her written works, she holds numerous certifications in the animal disaster field from groups such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). She has practical training and field experience in animal disaster work with United Animal Nations and from the American Humane Association and works to educate people on the importance of pet and animal disaster preparedness.
Guerrero said, "In any disaster, if a situation is unsafe for humans it is unsafe for animals. Animals are not usually allowed in human emergency shelters due to health precautions and limited space. People continue to fail to prepare for disasters and are even worse when it come to pet preparedness. The magnitude of Hurricane Katrina and the dismal images from that disaster highlight the importance of planning, preparation and need to restructure interagency communication and cooperation.”
Guerrero conducts teleseminars, classes via telephone lines, on pet disaster preparation and post crisis behavioral problems. Her animal disaster booklet, now in the seventh edition, offers tips to prepare prior to a disaster, how to form or get involved in a animal disaster preparedness network, and what items to include in kits for dogs, cats, horses, and birds. Guerrero also includes tip sheets for behavior, identification, health, diet, and sanitation for multiple species during and after disasters.
In the booklet, she stresses that contacting local animal shelters and other animal service agencies in advance of a disaster is a critical preparedness step. The minimum distance she recommends for establishing a network is from fifty to one hundred miles away. She also says people have to plan to evacuate with their pets and have the supplies on hand to care for them.
Guerrero has first hand experience about what is going on in the disaster zones through her rescue work after hurricanes, floods, and her own survival through California earthquakes and wildfires.
She said, "This disaster is a reminder to the nation that nobody can be complacent about disaster preparedness. Americans need to quit being apathetic about the risks in their areas and prepare.”
On Thursday, September 22, 2005 a congressional bill was introduced that would amend federal law so that the safety of pets and service animals are considered for pets in future disasters. Guerrero said that it is long overdue and is only the tip of the iceberg.
“Ultimately, each home should prepare for natural disasters and the potential for a crisis in their areas. States, counties, cities and local neighbors have to take action so that the infrastructure and memorandums of understanding are in place.”
Guerrero’s booklet also includes sections on post disaster animal behavior along with a valuable list of resources for the pet owner including animal disaster agencies, where to get training, and suppliers of kits and equipment.
Guerrero’s top tips are:
1. Develop a plan in advance and take your pets with you. You will not usually be allowed to go back and get them. Collapsible wire carriers are the best and be sure to have collars and leashes.
2. Have identification and veterinary records in your crisis evacuation kits for your family and pets. All animals should be up to date with their vaccinations. Collar IDs, tattoos and microchips are vital necessities.
3. Use waterproof buckets or containers for your items so you can grab them and go. Later they can be used for water storage. Have food, water and other items for at least a week.
4. Pay attention to directives from your local emergency agencies to avoid putting yourself and rescue personnel at additional risk.
Guerrero concluded, “No matter how much you prepare you can never really brace yourself for the wreckage a disaster creates in your life or the life of those that you love."
Readers interesting in donating to Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita disaster animal rescue groups can do so via the direct links at http://www.arkanimals.com. The hurricane pet page also allows disaster victims to connect with the animal rescue groups in their area and contains updates from zoos and other pet agencies in the disaster zone. Enrollment in animal disaster preparedness teleseminars and the pet preparedness booklet can also be found on the site.