As the East Coast prepares for Hurricane Irene's arrival later today, it's clear government officials have gotten the message: Make a place for pets when you evacuate people.
The lessons of Katrina have been learned.
In 2005 hundreds of people in Mississippi and Louisiana put themselves in harm's way because pets were banned at the human shelters and they would not leave their pets to an unknown fate in the storm.
The result? Hundreds of people and thousands of pets perished.
Bless New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the municipal leaders in Pennsylvania and New Jersey who have ensured the people and their pets will find safe harbor from the storm together.
"No one should be staying in their homes in an endangered area because they feel like they can't bring their pets with them," Christie told reporters yesterday.
But, he warned, pet owners should come with all the supplies needed to care for their pets.
"I can't believe as governor I'm actually having to say this, bring the kitty litter box and you know the pooper-scooper and all the rest of that stuff," Christie said.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania shelters in the southeast that have been designated to take pets. Philadelphia County Animal Response Team (PCART) and the American Red Cross have opened three shelters for animals and people. They are:
Lincoln High School
3201 Ryan Ave.
Roxborough High School
6498 Ridge Ave.
Bartram High School
2401 S. 67th St.
PCART also is looking for volunteers to staff the shelters. Check out their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/PhillyCART
We have heard there also are pet-friendly shelters in Downingtown and Avon but we do not know where.
Even if you aren't forced to evacuate you should take precautions to ensure you pet is safe in a natural disaster.
The Humane Society of the United States - which is prepared to mobilize its disaster rescue services if need be - offers the following tips for all pet owners:
Start with the basics
There are things you can do to get ready for natural disasters with pets, horses, and farm animals in mind. If you’re a pet owner, start with the basics:
Prepare a plan (even for everyday emergencies), including identifying a place to stay that will accept your pets
Develop a checklist for all your pets’ supplies and medical information
Identify a friend, neighbor, or family member who can take care of your pet if you are away
You CAN take your pets
The federal government now officially supports including pets in disaster plans. In 2000 The HSUS and FEMA signed an historic partnership agreement to encourage and assist people who want to safeguard their pets in a natural disaster.
Administrator Craig Fugate puts it plainly: “Animals are important members of millions of families across this country—and as such they should also be included in our family emergency plans.” With this video, FEMA designated May 8, 2010, National Animal Disaster Preparedness Day.
Since FEMA came on board, it’s become easier to find a shelter that will accept your pets. But don’t assume any shelter you go to will allow you to keep your dog or cat with you, cautions Varsa. “Before disaster hits, reach out to local officials—work with them to confirm that you will be allowed to evacuate with your pets and that cohabitated shelters [ones that take people and their pets] will be available in your area.”
If you stay put, stay safe
When you're advised to evacuate, pack up your pets and supplies, and go. But in situations when sitting out the disaster is the best (or only) option, plan to have on hand all the supplies you'll need for your pets. Then follow these safety guidelines:
Bring your pets indoors as soon as local authorities say there is an imminent problem. Keep pets under your direct control; you won't have to spend time trying to find them if you must evacuate. Make sure they are wearing collars and tags, and keep dogs on leashes and cats in carriers.
If you have a room you can designate as a "safe room," put your emergency supplies in that room in advance, including your pet's crate and supplies. If there is an open fireplace, vent, pet door, or similar opening in the house, close it off with plastic sheeting and strong tape.
Listen to the radio periodically, and don't come out until you know it's safe.
Keep your pet safe when you're not home
The best way to keep your pets safe when you can't be with them is to plan ahead:
Find a trusted neighbor and give them a key to your house or barn. Make sure this person is comfortable and familiar with your pets.
Make sure the neighbor knows your pets' whereabouts and habits, so they won't have to waste precious time trying to find or catch them.
Create a pet emergency/disaster kit and place it in a prominent place where your neighbor can find it.
If the emergency involves evacuation, make sure the neighbor would be willing to take your pets and has access to the appropriate carriers and leashes. Plan to meet at a prearranged location.
If you use a pet sitting service, they may be available to help, but discuss the possibility well in advance.