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Rescuing Fido in an emergency

/ Source: The Associated Press

It could be a hurricane or a fire, a tornado or earthquake. No matter what the emergency, animal advocates want to make sure pet and livestock owners are prepared to care for their animals when disaster strikes.

Since more than 3 million animals were killed in North Carolina in 1999 after Hurricane Floyd, many states have been thinking about emergency preparedness for animals.

In Pennsylvania, several counties now are forming volunteer networks to make sure pets, livestock and even wildlife are protected and cared for in emergencies.

“The odds are, all of our emergencies affect animals,” Joel Hersh, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Animal Response Team, said Monday.

'Planning is everything'

The state’s retired director of epidemiology has been with the private, nonprofit group since early this year, working with individual counties to identify resources that would be useful in emergencies — everything from special haulers to move livestock to experts in rare and exotic animals.

A few states, such as hurricane-prone Florida, have been including animals in their emergency planning for years. But the effort has accelerated, especially since North Carolina created its own State Animal Response Team in the wake of Hurricane Floyd.

Because many shelters do not take animals, people sometimes will not leave their homes in an emergency. Or they evacuate, then go back and get the pets, resulting in injuries and deaths, Culver said.

Instead, people need to plan ahead, for example, by finding hotels that take pets and making sure that they have food, medicine and other items their animals will need when evacuated. Similarly, farmers with livestock need to prepare, which sometimes can be as simple as making sure fenced-in animals can get to higher ground if nearby creeks or rivers flood.

Some states have unique ways to get the word out. Florida, for example, developed evacuation shelters that accept pets. In Georgia, the humane society went around the state teaching communities how to shelter animals during disaster. Arizona response teams are educating emergency responders and ranchers about recognizing contagious diseases and quarantining livestock.

“We may not be able to respond to something for a year. But we need to get people trained,” Clark said.

Hersh believes people have thought about planning for their pets, but haven’t done much about it.

“I don’t think that anybody has tried to address it in a structured uniform way, county to county,” Hersh said. “This is a formalized response team.”