How to keep pets safe in the event of an evacuation

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — After Hurricane Katrina, legislation was created to help keep pets and their owners safe during an evacuation.

Within a couple of weeks of each other, Harvey and Irma put millions of people in harm’s way, along with their pets. Last week, Rhode Island took in pets caught in Harvey’s path. Dr. E.J. Finocchio, the director of the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RISPCA) said he also got some dogs from Texas last week.

During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, people stayed in evacuation zones because they couldn’t take their pets with them. Finocchio said 44% of people in evacuation zones refused to evacuate because they could not take their pets.

Following Katrina, the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006 ensured that state and local emergency preparedness plans address the needs of individuals with pets prior to, during and following a major disaster.

Finocchio said that people in Florida still had difficulties leaving with their pets ahead of Irma.

“Come to find out, there weren’t enough pet carriers to transport these pets to go away in,” he explained. “Therefore, many pet owners decided not to evacuate. They didn’t want to leave their pets behind.”

Preparation is the key, according to Finocchio. Pet owners should have a carrier and also identification – preferably a microchip – in their pet in the event the animal gets separated from the owner.

Rhode Island’s preparedness plan for pets encourages pet owners to contact hotels to check their pet policies, arrange for a relative to care for the pet and keep a list of shelters or boarding facilities who could shelter animals during an emergency.

RI Evacuation Routes & Storm Surge Maps »

American Red Cross shelters will not allow pets other than service animals, so it is important to call a shelter ahead of time to find out their policy.

There are four designated emergency pet shelters in Rhode Island:

  • Pawtucket Animal Shelter
  • South Kingstown Animal Shelter
  • Westerly Animal Shelter
  • The Potter League in Middletown

Finocchio said that he would also have the RISPCA open for animals. As long as the pet is in a carrier, the organization will put the animals in the auditorium.

During a storm, call ahead to confirm emergency shelter arrangements and make sure a pet disaster supply kit is ready to take at a moment’s notice. RI.gov encourages people to bring all pets into the house during the storm and to make sure all dogs and cats are wearing collars and up-to-date identification tags.

After a storm, walk pets on a leash until they become reoriented to their home as smells and landmarks could be different. Be aware that power lines and other debris could be a threat to pets after a storm. In the event a pet is lost, contact the local animal control officer. Also, monitor an animal’s behavior as they could become aggressive or defensive.

Here are some helpful links to prepare for evacuations with pets:

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