Humane Organizations Push for Animal-Specific Emergency Funds

Hundreds of humane professionals are trying to create local, state and national safety nets to prevent pets from falling through the cracks of federal rescue efforts in the future. Veterinary professionals can get involved in the effort by joining or building state plans, said Kevin Dennison, DVM, program director for the Colorado Veterinary Medical Foundation’s State Animal Response Team (SART).

On a legislative front, the National Animal Response Coalition (NARC) supports the creation of national funds to pay for mobilization of local animal groups during natural disasters.

Outside the legislative realm, several veterinary professionals are talking monthly with state government, national non-profit organizations, and the United States Department of Agriculture to create streamlined local and state networks that would be patterned after national State Animal Response Team, which has been replicated in at least 15 states. SART models, which mirror military protocols, follow universal language, which reduces confusion during emergencies. Part of the problem with the response to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma was the lack of organization and direction among volunteers, sources said.

The monthly conversations are intended to build a communication bridge between “the state and local programs that have responsibility [for animals – pets and livestock affected by disasters] and national programs that have the resources,” Dennison said.

The Colorado SART will host its first emergency conference March 18-19, 2006.

And in May, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) will convene its biannual National Conference on Animals in Disaster titled Learning from Katrina: A Commitment to the Future.

One cohesive group of humane and veterinary professionals has not been formed to address the emergency issues. However, sources told NEWStat that a common goal among professionals participating in emergency meetings and monthly conference calls is to produce local groups that are cross-trained in emergency protocols, and to support legislation that will fund and support animal disaster team logistics.

“We need to have companion animals in the national response plan, in addition to state plans, and common training,” said Oliver Davidson, senior disaster advisor for HSUS Disaster Services.

NARC, which comprises the American Humane Association, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and others, met last December and January to draft stronger language in the Pets Evaluation and Transportation Standards Act. Their suggestions, which would designate funds for animal emergencies, clarify that animals are included in the Stafford Act, and create a Federal Emergency Management Association advisory committee dedicated to pet-related plans, were sent to Senator Ted Stevens last month.

“The takeaway [from the meetings] was that there is no federal panacea, no national plan or [organization] that will move in and take over,” said Marie Wheatley, president and CEO of American Humane Association (AHA). AHA planned the first meeting in Washington, D.C., and one month later, helped organize an Emergency Management Summit at the North American Veterinary Conference that attracted 150 attendees.

Recognizing the lack of national resources, professionals want to create local emergency response teams who would learn the same protocols and unravel state licensure quagmires before a need for their services arose, Wheatley explained. Some professionals are also interested in joining Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD), a humanitarian emergency group that has partnered with the Red Cross, Wheatley said.

The goal is to create fast, efficient animal emergency response to animal disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, Wheatley said. “As tragic as that was, it allowed us to shine a light on the problem,” she added.