If America learned anything from the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina it was that animal lovers would die before leaving their pets behind in a disaster.
Long before Hurricane Sandy struck the New Jersey shore, the state's senior Senator recognized the need for municipalities to develop evacuation plans for pets.
That's why animal people are mourning the loss of their friend in Congress, Frank Lautenberg, who died yesterday at 89.
As Michael Markarian, director of the Humane Society's Legislative Fund reminds us in his column yesterday, Lautenberg fought to help animals throughout his five terms in the Senate.
Top on his list was the passage in 2006 of the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, which Lautenberg co-authored with the late Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska.
The bill responded to the thousands of animals who were lost or abandoned during Hurricane Katrina. Remember in 2005 virtually all shelters forbid animals and many people in New Orleans and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast perished rather than risk losing their companions.
The PETS Act requires state and local communities to take into account the needs of pets and service animals in their disaster planning, and allows FEMA to assist with emergency planning and sheltering of pets.
Markarian said animal rescue groups like the Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA have seen "the lasting impact of this federal policy, as local responding agencies have been better prepared to meet the needs of families with pets in the face of tornadoes, hurricanes, and other disasters across the country."
Lautenberg also was responsible for key language in the Safe Air Travel for Animals Act of 2000 that required airlines to improve animal care training for baggage handlers and file monthly reports of any incidents involving pets including injuries and deaths so consumers can compare travel data for different airlines.
And he co-auithored the as-yet unsuccessful Horse Transportation Act to prohibit the transportation of horses in double-decker trucks,
Most recently, even as he battled serious illness, Lautenberg helped block legislation to allow the imports of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada, and measures designed to prevent federal agencies from restricting the use of toxic lead ammunition which poisons wildlife and the environment.
As Markarian writes:
Animal advocates have reason to be extremely grateful to Sen. Lautenberg for his passion and effective leadership on humane issues. We mourn his passing, and we celebrate his accomplishments—knowing that his work over many years of service to the people of New Jersey and the United States helped to strengthen the federal legal framework for animal protection in ways that will long be remembered.