Where to turn for help before and after disaster

As the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma proved, humans aren’t the only victims of natural disasters. Animals suffer, too. And there are resources available to help both people and their pets when their lives have been uprooted my hurricanes, floods, wildfires, or other traumatic natural events.

Of course, it’s always best to have a plan in place before disaster happens. And the Department of Homeland Security has put together a disaster preparedness checklist to make sure sure you’re prepared ahead of time.For example, a good place to start is to know what types of natural disasters are most likely to affect your area, and how to get emergency alerts so you’ll know what’s going on when the unthinkable happens.

For animal-specific emergency planning information, the AVMA has an Emergency Preparedness & Response Guide in the form of a downloadable pdf, a resource designed specifically for veterinarians, veterinary technicians, emergency managers, and other veterinary care professionals. This 400-plus-page all-hazards/all-species reference is full of disaster planning information to assist you in your disaster preparedness plans.

As a veterinary professional, are you prepared to continue practicing in the aftermath of a disaster? Will you be there for the animals and clients who need you when they’re scrambling to dig themselves out trouble? The AVMA also has a detailed brochure on disaster preparedness for veterinary practices.

But when you don’t have a plan, and you’re caught short or overtaken by events, who can pets and pet owners turn to for help after disaster hits?

The Animal Legal Defense Fund has a list of resources to help nonhuman victims of natural disasters. All the resources have a common theme: when you have to flee, take your pet with you. One of the sad lessons Hurricane Katrina taught us was that many people refused to evacuate because they couldn’t take their pets with them, putting both pet and pet owner at risk. But today there are many online services that allow you to search for animal-friendly hotels in your area.

The Disaster Assistance Improvement Program  provides disaster survivors with information, support, services, and a means to access and apply for disaster assistance through joint data-sharing efforts between federal, tribal, state, local, and private sector partners. For instance, they have a locater to help you find the closest FEMA Disaster Recover Centers in your area. And a link where you can find information on 70 forms of disaster assistance from 17 different federal agencies.

Since 1987, Sacramento-based nonprofit RedRover Responders has worked in cooperation with law enforcement, local agencies, and animal organizations to shelter and care for animals displaced by natural disasters and other crises, such as criminal seizures, puppy mills, and hoarding cases, in the United States and Canada. For example, their RedRover Relief program offers one-time grants to pay the vet bills of low or no-income families and individuals faced with emergency veterinary crises. 

And for victims of international disasters, help is available through the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). IFAW dispatches emergency response teams to areas around the world where animals are in distress. Natural disasters include fires, floods, severe storms such as hurricanes and tornadoes, drought, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. IFAW also responds to disasters due to human causes, including oil spills, nuclear reactor accidents, financial crises, and armed conflicts.

Photo credit: ©iStock/andykatz

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