Post-Katrina planning means leaving no pet (or person) behind

As Hurricane Isaac bears down on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Alabama, my thoughts turn to the thousands of animals who lost their lives in Katrina - and the many human victims who died because they refused to leave their pets behind.

In 2005 hurricane shelters were off-limits to pets. (Although I recall one Red Cross shelter in Gulfport that allowed a few desperate people to tie their dogs outside.) There were no pet evacuation plans. Pets and their people were on their own.

The profiles of Mississippi's Katrina victims published in the months that followed in the Sun Herald echoed a similar tragic theme: they stayed put for their pets.

Much has changed in seven years. Congress passed the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS) directing all states receiving FEMA money to develop plans for pet evacuation in disasters. Many states have passed laws mandating comprehensive plans to keep pets from harm's way and many shelters now accept pets.

The Sun Herald reported yesterday that the Harrison shelter will allow people to bring pets if they also bring adequate food and bedding.

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, who devoted a chapter of his book "The Bond" to Katrina and what it showed about human/animal relationships.

He told me last night that the lessons of Katrina will mean better outcomes for pets and people.

"The biggest takeaway from Katrina is not taking into account the human animal bond undermines disaster response," said Pacelle, whose group, along with many others, rescued 15,000 animals in the Gulf Coast region after Katrina. "We expect an entirely different response in Isaac."

Stan Tiner, the never-say-never editor of the Sun-Herald who kept his paper printing remotely even as the presses stopped running in Biloxi, delivered this message to the community yesterday: 

Our first goal is the safety of every single living creature: people and pets. Let's all get out of harm's way before Isaac's arrival.

Studies confirm the human/animal bond is powerful. In one survey 61 percent of pet owners said they would not leave their pet in a disaster.

For tips from the Humane Society on how to prepare for a disaster click here and you can follow the HSUS on Twitter @humanesociety.

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