Hoping to avoid another Katrina-like debacle, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and around the country are working toward requiring the inclusion of pets in emergency-preparedness plans.
In May, the House passed the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act with overwhelming bipartisan support. The PETS bill, introduced by Rep. Tom Lantos of California, would require state and local preparedness offices to take into account pet owners, household pets, and service animals in their disaster preparedness program.
"The devastation last year in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama brought unbelievable images into every American home night after night," Lantos said after the bill's passage.
"The loss of life and property was staggering," he continued. "But on top of all that, the sight of evacuees choosing between being rescued or remaining with their pets, perhaps even having to leave behind the service animals they rely on every day, was just heartbreaking."
The PETS bill is a critically important piece of legislation, according to the AVMA, since many Gulf Coast residents would not evacuate because there was nowhere to go that would accept people and their pets. Federal disaster relief organizations prevent animals from boarding rescue vehicles. The Red Cross bars all animals, except for service animals, from evacuee shelters for reasons of public health and safety.
The law would also have a positive effect on animal welfare; the Humane Society of the United States estimates that as many as 50,000 pets and other animals were abandoned after Katrina.
The Senate is considering similar legislation. Sponsored by Ted Stevens of Alaska and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, the Senate bill goes further than the House version by authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist in the planning process, allowing financial aid to create emergency shelters for pet owners, and requiring the provision of essential assistance for pet owners and their animals following a major disaster.
"We learned many important lessons from hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma," Stevens said. "One of these lessons was that we must put procedures in place to evacuate not only residents in areas impacted by a natural disaster, but also pets and service animals. This legislation is an important step forward in our efforts to mitigate personal suffering during times of disaster."
Efforts to make provisions for pets and livestock during emergencies are also under way in several states. Such legislation has been adopted in Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Florida, while bills are currently pending in California, New Jersey and New York.