Helping Animals After a Disaster

The Fayette County Animal Response Team organized a comprehensive resource center for pet and animal needs in their junior high school.
The Fayette County Animal Response Team organized a comprehensive resource center for pet and animal needs in their junior high school.

From local to international animal rescue organizations the requests for volunteers to help animals in the wake of a natural disaster are simple:

  • Find who has already organized rescue efforts, sign up as a volunteer, and join in to help where your skills and abilities best fit.
  • Don’t move animals unless you are requested to do so. If you find an animal you feel is abandoned call the nearest agency to find out if you should move it and who has the room and can provide for that animal.
  • Find out what agencies and shelters need before you collect goods and food for donation.
  • If you donate money, donate directly to a local shelter or organization to avoid scams.

Each season, cities, states, regions, countries and continents all over the world suffer natural disasters involving rain, snow, wind, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, power outages, fires and earthquakes. People and animals hunker down or evacuate, then regroup, restore and rebuild. Even something as seemingly innocuous as a summer thunderstorm can dump enough rain on a small area to cause rivers to overflow their banks or streams to flash flood, and neighborhoods and whole towns are devastated by the force of the water and what it does, and doesn’t, leave behind as happened in four counties in southern West Virginia in June 2016 and in a small town south of me, Connellsville, PA, just last week.

In the US, pets and even livestock had rarely been considered in emergency plans or permitted in evacuation shelters before Hurricane Katrina in 2004 when hundreds of people refused to evacuate before and after the storm without their pets, but within just a few years of Hurricane Katrina pets began to be included in many states’ emergency plans. A system of “Animal Response Teams” was organized by cities, counties and states to rescue and shelter pets, livestock and even wildlife in the wake of natural disasters depending on their local needs.

When disasters put people and their pets and animals in danger, we naturally want to help, and agencies and organizations including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), American Humane Association (AHA), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), AVMA to Petfinder, all members of the National Animal Rescue & Sheltering Coalition Member Organizations (NARSC), have advice and guidelines for how help is best given.

Find out what’s already in process and join in where your skills fit best

Don’t run to an emergency site and start trying to rescue people and animals. Conditions are often dangerous in the aftermath of a disaster and you could easily be injured or injure others, human or animal. Things may appear disorganized in the first few hours, but by waiting a day or two you can offer more help with combined efforts. The agencies who assist communities with animal rescue after disasters are equipped with staff, training and procedures to be able to face just about any situation. They begin to assess as soon as the situation begins, before they even arrive on site, and are in touch with all police and emergency personnel in the area, not just those handling animals, and coordinate a plan that best uses what is available in the area and what they can bring to the situation.

The disaster response for animals in the recent flooding in Baton Rouge, Louisana is being coordinated by the Louisiana State Animal Control Team (LSART), and a message on their website reads, “Animal Owners who need help with assistance during disasters are asked to contact their local Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, Parish Animal Control Office, or Sheriffs Office. All emergencies and disasters begin at the local level. Local agencies can request help directly from LSART, or from the state, who in turn may request LSART to assist. LSART works within the state/federal system to have an organized and efficient response.” Their Facebook page is a wealth of information networking rescue for pets and livestock, especially quite a few horses.

Find what you feel you can do and formally sign up as a volunteer so that your time and actions are accountable. Shelters and agencies have to account for the health and welfare of all the animals in their care and for good or ill all activities should be documented.

Don’t move an animal unless you are requested to do so

Unless an animal is obviously injured or in some physical distress, leave it where it is, contain it if possible and report it, then get instructions on the best thing for you to do. Local shelters may have been damaged or are suddenly overcrowded with animals in need, and any rescued animals may need to go somewhere else entirely. Follow instructions, and don’t remove animals from an area without permission because animals removed from a disaster area stand a far smaller chance of being reunited with an owner.

In the June flooding in southern West Virginia, the very shelters people would go to had been hit by flooding, so animals in the shelters had to be moved elsewhere, and animals needing rescue were sent to yet other shelters to avoid overcrowding in the shelter space that was available in the area.

Find out what is needed before donating goods

A natural thing to do is to organize a food drive for cats and dogs, but that may actually be the last thing a shelter needs that’s housing animals in a disaster. An organization like AHA, HSUS or ASPCA may arrive with supplies, or a local pet supply store or pet food manufacturer may donate pallets of food or cat litter, but the shelter may be in desperate need of cages to safely contain the extra animals. Extra food bowls, bedding, even cleaning supplies may be in more demand, and they may also have rescued some exotic animals who need a special diet. Don’t presume they can use an unrequested donation later if they don’t need it now, or they can pass it along to others who do need it—in the middle of a disaster no one has the time to find storage space and figure out what to do with something they don’t need, they only have time for the immediate demands.

Look for the resources on shelter, rescue and CART websites and Facebook pages to keep up to date with what is already happening and what is most needed at the moment—and the lists change sometimes every day. Don’t donate damaged or dirty items, repair or clean them first because those organizing the effort don’t have the time or often the means to take care of it.

For instance, in Connellsville the Fayette County Animal Response Team (CART) recently posted on their Facebook page,

We have some odd items that people don’t usually think to donate that could be donated:

Flea meds: collars (esp cat), topical and flea shampoo
Oatmeal Shampoo- dog & cat
Dog Collars- all sizes
Dog Leashes- all sizes
Cat Litter / Scoopers / Boxes
Pet Beds- all sizes
Lids for Canned Food
Dog Treats/ Busy Bones
Brushes & Combs
Crates & Carriers
*Gently used items ok if washed.

For FARM animals:
Square bales of Hay
Fencing materials and posts
Grain & Asst Feed
Lime
Fencing Panels- Heavy Duty

The day after the flooding they set up a Resource Center at the Junior High School where everything was to be delivered, volunteers to report, and transport and supplies depart from, and they coordinated everything from supplies to veterinary clinics to food for volunteers spending long hours organizing and sorting goods, as you see in the photo at the top of this article. Local businesses supported the volunteers with meals too.

Donate cash locally

Scams of all sorts pop up after a disaster, especially those that offer to collect donations for a cause, so be careful where your money goes. The national organizations who show up after a disaster collect donations year round to cover the costs of disaster response, and are especially grateful if you can donate to them at the time of a disaster as well, but your local shelters and agencies are probably more cash-strapped for pressing needs like all those supplies listed above, gas for emergency vehicles, emergency treatment for animals who may be injured or ill. An article on PetMD focuses on the Louisiana flooding but the advice is good for any disaster. www.petmd.com/news/care-safety/louisiana-floods-what-you-can-do-help-animal-relief-efforts-34616

Foster pets

If you have the space and the skill, helping shelters full of lost and needy animals by taking one or two home to foster would be an immense help for them. The animals may be traumatized by the whole experience, and being back in a quieter home situation, even an unfamiliar one, can help them adjust. Because being in a stressful environment can also reduce their immune response to illness, you’ll help keep them healthier too.

Before a disaster strikes you

Be prepared before it happens by creating an emergency kit for your pet, and having your pet microchipped. Read Emergency Preparedness for You and Your Pets.

Resources

Here are some links where you can read more:

What You Can Do To Help Animal Relief Efforts: www.petmd.com/news/care-safety/louisiana-floods-what-you-can-do-help-animal-relief-efforts-34616

Louisiana SPCA http://www.la-spca.org/news

American Humane Association Red Star Rescue http://www.americanhumane.org/humane-intervention/#redstarrescue

ASPCA Field Investigations and Response http://www.aspca.org/take-action/volunteer/field-investigations-and-response-daily-care-responder

Humane Society of the United States Disaster Relief http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/animal_rescue/relief.html

Petfinder https://www.petfinder.com/helping-pets/animals-and-disaster-relief/helping-pets-after-disasters/

American Red Cross Pet Disaster and Safety http://www.redcross.org/get-help/prepare-for-emergencies/types-of-emergencies/pet-safety#About

FEMA Helping Pets https://www.fema.gov/helping-pets

Matador Network (International Travel) How To Help Animals After A Disaster http://matadornetwork.com/change/how-to-help-animals-after-a-disaster/


Read more articles about Health and Safety and Veterinary Medicine.


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© 2016 | www.TheCreativeCat.net | Published by Bernadette E. Kazmarski
Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life
Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork
Thursday: New Merchandise
Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy
Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!

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Bernadette

From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, The Creative Cat offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats. From catchy and creative headlines to factual articles and fictional stories, The Creative Cat provides constant entertainment and important information to people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

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