Articles

Detailed Discussion of State Emergency Planning Laws for Pets and Service Animals

  • Cynthia Hodges, J.D., LL.M., M.A.
  • Animal Legal & Historical Center
  • Publish Date: 2011
  • Place of Publication: Michigan State University College of Law

 

I. Introduction

In the early morning of August 29, 2005, Katrina struck New Orleans with the full force of a category five hurricane. The violent storm battered the city and the surrounding levee system, causing it to break within hours. Sea water poured onto the streets, flooding 80% of the city within two days.

The hurricane was a disaster for both people and animals. At the time, there were no laws that required that animals be evacuated, rescued or sheltered in an emergency. Evacuees who were fleeing the storm were traumatized as authorities refused to allow their pets or service animals onto boats or buses. Animal companions were left behind, forced to face the rising flood alone. As many as 600,000 frightened, starving, and dehydrated pets sought refuge on rooftops or in attics. Estimates suggest that up to 250,000 animals may have died by drowning, starvation, dehydration, disease or heat in the aftermath of Katrina. After the storm abated, Animal Control and animal rescue groups were able to retrieve about 26,000 animals. Many were adopted by a new family in other parts of the United States and even in Canada, never to see their original owners again. For more on this, see Kim Campbell Thornton, “Katrina leading to better pet rescue efforts," MSNBC, August 21, 2006).

Fearing what would happen to their pets, some people chose to weather the storm at home, putting their own lives at risk. The experience of Katrina pitted people’s attachment to their pets against government officials’ unwillingness or inability to provide for animals in an emergency. In a Zogby poll, 61% of pet owners said they would refuse to abandon their pets in an emergency (Laura Allen, “Are Government Officials Ready to Evacuate and Shelter Animals in Disasters?,” Animal Law Coalition, August 29, 2008, available at http://www.animallawcoalition.com/animals-and-politics/article/580). The lack of provisions for pets in disaster planning put human health and safety in jeopardy. Hurricane Katrina showed that animal owners may either refuse to evacuate if they could not take their animals with them or may enter a disaster area to rescue animals they were forced to abandon. Pet owners may also suffer psychological trauma, such as grief and guilt, if forced to abandon their animals. (For more on this, see Mary Foster, “Hurricane Katrina led to changes in pet evacuation laws,” Associated Press, August 24, 2010, available at http://blog.al.com/live/2010/08/hurricane_katrina_led_to_chang.html).

Katrina made it clear that changes needed to be made to state and federal laws to provide for pets and service animals in emergency planning. Since then, federal and state laws have been passed to include provisions for evacuation of animals, rescue and recovery, shelters and tracking in disaster plans.

II. Federal PETS Act

In 2006, the federal Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act (42 U.S.C.A. § 5196a-d (2006)) was passed. PETS directs the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to develop emergency preparedness plans and ensure that state and local emergency plans take into account the needs of individuals with pets and service animals prior to, during, and following a major disaster or emergency. The Administrator may make financial contributions to the states and local authorities for animal emergency preparedness purposes, including the procurement, construction, leasing, and renovating of emergency shelter facilities and materials to accommodate people with pets and service animals.

PETS has been criticized for being administratively burdensome and because it only requires that the needs of individuals with pets and service animals be taken into account. The complaint about being overly burdensome stems from the requirement that the state “invite” Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams (VMATs) to assist after its local veterinary community is overwhelmed. The invitation must then be approved by the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Fulfilling these administrative requirements quickly in the aftermath of a disaster is challenging, and may not serve the needs of the people or animals.

In addition, PETS does not require any specific action or outline any concrete steps to be taken for evacuating or transporting animals. As a result, the local emergency plans tend to address crisis-style public health risks (e.g. assessment of animals’ medical needs and treatment, disease surveillance, public health assessment, technical assistance to assure food and water quality, and euthanasia), rather than search and rescue of animals. (For more on this, see Geordie Duckler, J.D., Ph.D. “Dog Law: Dogs and Disasters,” The Bark, September/October 2008, available at http://thebark.com/content/dog-law-dogs-and-disasters).

III. Overview of State Disaster Planning Laws and Animals

Over 30 states have adopted either a law that deals with disaster planning and pets or have promulgated administrative plans on the subject (see map). Some of the state laws are similar to PETS in that they declare that pets should be included in emergency preparedness plans, but do not require any specific steps. For example, in Virginia, Nevada, Illinois, New Jersey, and Oregon, emergency response plans are to “address the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals in the event of a disaster.” (See VA Code Ann. § 44-146.18, Nev. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 414.095 (2007), IL ST CH 20 § 3305/4 (2006), N.J.S.A. App. A:9-43.1, Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 401.975, § 401.977 (2009)).

Other state laws require specific action, such as that animals be sheltered and evacuated during an emergency. For example, under Hawaii’s emergency law, HRS § 128-10.5 (2006), the governor prescribes rules to establish criteria and requirements to shelter pets, while the director of civil defense identifies suitable public and private shelters. The Louisiana plan must allow household pets that are safely confined in carriers to use public transportation during a disaster (as long as doing so does not endanger human life) (§ 726(E)(20)(iii)(aa)). If any pets are not allowed to use public transportation, alternative transportation may be provided by the primary agency. The law also requires an identification system to be established to ensure that pet owners who are separated from their pets during an evacuation are provided with all the information necessary to locate and reclaim their pets. (La. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 29:726, 29:729 (1993)). In addition, the Office must implement a public information program to provide guidance to pet owners in formulating their own evacuation plans and to inform them of the available resources (§729(E) (13)(a)(vii)).

State emergency plans provide emergency services needed to address animal welfare and public health and safety concerns (Alabama, Tennessee). Such plans establish guidelines and procedures to coordinate federal, state and local government agencies, volunteer organizations, animal interest groups, and veterinary medical personnel for rapid response to natural disasters affecting the health, safety and welfare of people and animals (Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Tennessee, Virginia) Such plans are intended to ensure the humane care and treatment of animals during an emergency (Massachusetts, North Carolina, Rhode Island).

While these plans differ from state to state, most address several key elements, which include the following:

  • the care of companion animals;
  • the implementation of state animal response teams;
  • the sheltering of animals; and
  • identification of recovered animals.
Some states go farther by addressing the specific needs of individuals with service animals and non-companion animals, such as livestock or zoo animals.

IV. Key Elements of State Disaster Plans

The animal care and control functions of many state emergency plans include preparedness, response, rescue, evacuation, emergency medical care, temporary confinement, food, water, and identification in order to return it to its owner (Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington). In North Carolina, preventative immunizations are given to lost, stray, and homeless animals. Massachusetts and Rhode Island provide euthanasia assistance stations.

A. Organization and Implementation of State Disaster Plans

The emergency plans come into effect by different mechanisms depending on the state. For example, in Nevada, the governor puts the state plan into effect, while in Arizona, the Director of the Division of Emergency Management does so. Once the plan is activated, the primary agency oversees animal rescue and welfare efforts. In most states, this is the state’s Department of Agriculture (Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington).

The State Veterinarian is the primary state official for coordinating veterinary and voluntary services (Louisiana), and directs the performance of veterinary and animal care functions (Alabama). Such actions may include arranging for the provision of food, water, shelter, and medical care (Oklahoma).

State Medical Associations provide emergency medical equipment and supplies for animals and euthanize sick and injured animals (Massachusetts, Rhode Island). In Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont, the Associations assist in the establishment of triage units for the care of injured animals, provide rabies vaccinations for animals in shelters, and assist with returning animals to their owners.

Humane Societies operate animal shelters, collection points and rescue services for displaced, stray or abandoned animals (Arizona, North Carolina).

B. Disaster Planning Before a Disaster

During the preparedness phase, pet-friendly shelters and confinement areas, such as kennels, barns, and pastures, are identified (Colorado, Florida, Georgia). Food, water, identification tags or collars, and medical supplies are procured (Florida). Incident command posts, mobilization centers, and staging areas are also pre-established (Colorado).

C. State Animal Response Teams

The response phase includes those activities immediately necessary to preserve life and property. This includes search and rescue and finding emergency shelter, housing, food, and water (Colorado, South Carolina).

Louisiana's Emergency Support Function 11, Appendix 3 is one of the more rigorous state emergency plans, perhaps due to the experience of Hurricane Katrina. The plan provides guidelines to respond to disasters and address care for small and large animals, facility usage, and assistance in locating displaced companion animals and livestock.

Under the guidelines, the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association organizes State Animal Response Teams (SART) and maintains a list of volunteer veterinarians who would be willing to help in an emergency or disaster situation. The Louisiana Shelter Task Force coordinates with veterinarians, animal control personnel and humane society volunteers to shelter companion animals.

The Louisiana guidelines call for the state to set up pet evacuation shelters once it is clear that people and their pets are moving out of harm’s way. Such shelters must be set up 96 hours prior to landfall (in the case of a hurricane), and preferably near a shelter for people. The state provides transportation for people and pets (in separate vehicles) from parish pick up points to evacuation shelters. Each individual parish is responsible for identifying who would need such transportation and for establishing rules for animal evacuation. Such rules require that animal owners provide both identification for themselves and proof of ownership for each pet. Each animal should be microchipped and/or digitally photographed before arriving at a pick up point. Animals must be kept in a hard-sided crate marked with the animal’s identity. The state also provides veterinary service and security at the animal shelters, but owners are responsible for taking care of their own pets and must provide three days worth of food and any necessary medications.

Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Rhode Island direct their citizens to transport their own animals to an animal shelter site during an evacuation. However, if owners cannot drive, then a responsible agency, organization, or volunteers may provide such transportation.

California and Maine are other examples of states that establish Animal Response Teams in their emergency plans. The California Animal Response Emergency System (CARES) program is incorporated into the standardized emergency management system (Cal.Gov.Code § 8608). The Treasurer of Maine is directed to establish the State of Maine Animal Response Team Fund, which may be used to pay costs associated with the administration and activities undertaken by the Team (7 M.R.S.A. § 1901 (2005)).

D. Animal Sheltering and Identification of Recovered Animals

During the recovery phase, agencies operating animal shelters are responsible for identifying and reuniting animals with their owners (Minnesota, North Carolina). Animals in Louisiana are identified by microchip or photographed, and the owners show identification and proof of ownership so that they can reclaim their animal. (Oregon directs the Office of Emergency Management to consider establishing such an identification system in its state plan. Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 401.975, § 401.977 (2009).) Unclaimed animals are adopted out in Rhode Island, while they are disposed of in Tennessee.

Emergency plan guidelines may call for the development and maintenance of a database of local resources to be used for animal disaster response. Such a database may include all county animal emergency plans, a list of all county animal emergency coordinators, available animal shelters and confinement areas (including shelter for exotic or zoo animals (Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Washington). Maryland keeps a roster of veterinary hospitals, kennels, and boarding facilities that will participate in the sheltering of domestic pets during disaster periods. Other resources include county animal coordinator contact information, trained and professionally qualified volunteers and personnel, available supplies, equipment, facilities and transportation (Maine), licensed veterinarians, emergency field veterinarians and veterinary hospitals (Tennessee). Information about the location of animal shelters is disseminated to the public by news releases, brochures, and websites (Minnesota).

E. Special Provisions for Service Animals

In some states, it is public policy to shelter service animals and their owners together. To further that policy, New Hampshire requires that every effort must be made in state emergency planning and training to keep service animals and their owners together in cases of emergency (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 21-P:37-a). Those with disabilities in Louisiana who rely on service animals must be evacuated, transported, and sheltered together with their service animals. Facilities that provide shelter to people with disabilities are legally obligated to provide shelter to both the disabled person and the service animal (§726(E)(20)(a)(i)).

F. Non-Companion Animals: Wild Animals, Zoo Animals, and Livestock

In some states, all animals are covered by the state emergency plans, such as domestic pets, livestock, zoo and exotic animals, wildlife, poultry, fish, exhibition (racing) animals, laboratory and research animals (Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington). Other states are more restrictive. Illinois provides shelter, food, water, and veterinary care to displaced animals, while South Carolina’s plans provide such care only for pets. Arizona excludes commercial livestock, but will assist wildlife when disaster conditions affect the interface with human populations.

VI. Conclusion

In the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, major changes have been made to federal and state emergency planning laws with respect to animals, including evacuation, rescue and recovery, shelters and tracking.

After the federal PETS act was passed in 2006, over a dozen state laws have followed. Although some echo PETS and merely state that pets should be included in emergency preparedness plans, others require that animals be evacuated, transported, and sheltered. The state emergency plans then outline the steps to be taken during the preparedness, response and recovery phases of a disaster.

Top of Page