By Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President and CEO
The deadly storm surge, heavy rainfall, and high winds of Hurricane Dorian were another sobering reminder of the devastating impact natural disasters have on families and communities, including local animals. Word is thankfully getting out about how pet owners can best prepare their animals in the event of a disaster, but what about animals in institutional settings like zoos, research facilities, and commercial animal breeding facilities?
Because these facilities often profit from the animals in their care, they have a critical responsibility to plan for hurricanes, fires, floods, or other disasters. The problem is: they don’t have to. There is currently no federal requirement for facilities holding a license under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to have emergency or disaster plans in place, leaving animals there – and the responders who take action to rescue them – at particular risk.
To help protect these animals, Reps. Dina Titus (D-NV) and Peter King (R-NY) have introduced the PREPARED Act (H.R. 1042), which requires entities regulated by the AWA to create detailed plans to protect the animals in their care during disasters and ensure their employees know what steps to take when an emergency occurs.
The cost of not preparing can be devastating. In 2005, approximately 8,000 animals, including dogs and monkeys, died at a medical school in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck. Without a federal requirement for disaster planning, animals like these could be in severe peril the next time a flood or hurricane strikes.
When institutions don’t plan for disasters, the enormous physical and financial responsibility of care often falls on the already-burdened shoulders of emergency first responders and non-governmental agencies. The ASPCA routinely responds to animals endangered by natural disasters. In 2018 alone, we responded to a string of disasters including Hurricanes Florence and Michael, the eruption of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, and mudslides and wildfires in California. By year’s end, the ASPCA assisted more than 9,000 animals through pre-disaster evacuations, field rescue, and post-disaster relief efforts. It stands to reason that if we reduce the number of animals in peril, we also reduce the number of rescuers risking their lives to save them.
Protecting animals in disasters is not a new idea. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Congress passed the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, which requires states and localities to include animals in their disaster preparedness plans. With natural disasters occurring with increasing frequency, the ASPCA urges Congress to continue its work to protect animals in need by passing the PREPARED Act. By doing so, Congress will help ensure that animals in institutional settings – who primarily serve the entertainment, research, and economic interest of humans – are strongly considered in the event of a life-threatening disaster.
Originally Published in The Hill.