The hurricanes that have plagued the southeast United States and the Caribbean in the recent weeks have made me question what my role is as a veterinarian in a national disaster and what can I do for my patients and pets during one?   I was astounded by troubling information gained by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Did you know that since emergency response teams were overwhelmed rescuing people, nearly 600,000 animals died or were stranded (Yuijano, et all, 2016).  More than half of the people that stayed in their homes did so because they were not able to take their pets to safer areas.

In 2006, Congress created the Pet Evacuation and Transportation and Safety (PETS) Act to require state and local jurisdictions to have a plan in place for the evacuation and sheltering of household pets in order to qualify for FEMA reimbursement.  The PETS Act goals are to promote local jurisdictions to save people by saving pets in times of disaster.  And, despite this, many disaster evacuation centers (specifically Red Cross evacuation centers) do not accept pets due to states’ health and safety regulations.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) also understands that veterinarians are vital to response and recovery efforts during emergent disasters in promoting and aiding preparedness efforts to limiting the impact of these on both animals and people.  This organization established a Committee on Disaster and Emergency Issues (CDEI) in 2001 to provide expertise and guidance on the subject.  In addition, an informative website is available for veterinary practitioners and pet owners to prepare for national disasters.

Local communities often offer participation in emergency response teams to provide community awareness of disaster preparedness, disaster response skills, search and rescue and disaster medical operations. If you are interested in providing medical assistance with local or state governmental agencies during a disaster, it would be best to contact the AVMA or your local governmental agency to get involved!

Quick tips to help prepare your clinic and clients during a disaster:

  1. Develop a clinic evacuation plan for staff, hospitalized patients, and boarding pets
  2. Develop a list of local pet friendly hotels, shelters and emergency clinics for owners if your clinic will be closed during emergency
  3. Read the AVMA’s “Saving the Whole Family” informative brochure which offers a comprehensive list of safeguarding pets before, during and after a disaster
  4. Recommending that clients add pets to their family’s pre-determined preparedness plan including a disaster preparedness kit to include: food and fresh water for up to 1 week, restraint device such as leash, crate, collar, medication with a current prescription, health/vaccination records, a recent photo of the pet and family (other suggestions available at resources below)
  5. Ensure pets have proper identification: Microchip (changed from previous shelter or clinic information) and identification tag with up to date information
  6. Check with your local municipality to understand local procedures to inform your clients

Additional sources of information for your clinic and clients: