Full Title Name:  Overview of State Emergency Planning Laws for Animals

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Cynthia F. Hodges Place of Publication:  Michigan State University College of Law Publish Year:  2011 Primary Citation:  Animal Legal & Historical Center

Since 2005, major changes have been made to federal and state emergency planning laws with respect to animals. State laws require emergency plans to include steps to be taken during a disaster, including evacuation, rescue and recovery, shelters and tracking.


Since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, major changes have been made to federal and state emergency planning laws with respect to animals. At the time, there were no laws that required that animals be evacuated, rescued or sheltered in an emergency. Estimates suggest that up to 250,000 animals may have died in the aftermath of Katrina. The lack of provisions for pets in disaster planning also put human health and safety in jeopardy because some pet owners chose to weather the storm at home for fear of what would happen to their animals. As a result, federal and state laws have been passed to include provisions for evacuation of animals, rescue and recovery, shelters and tracking in disaster plans.

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 during a major disaster or emergency. FEMA may also make financial contributions to state and local authorities for animal emergency preparedness purposes. PETS has been criticized because it does not require any specific action be taken.

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 ). Many state laws require that animals be sheltered and evacuated during an emergency. Such plans establish 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. 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 also address the specific needs of individuals with service animals and non-companion animals, such as livestock, zoo animals, or wild animals.

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.

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

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. For example, Louisiana's emergency plan calls 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.  The state provides transportation for people and pets from parish pick up points to evacuation shelters. The state 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. It is public policy to shelter service animals and their owners together (also in New Hampshire ).

During the recovery phase, agencies operating animal shelters are responsible for identifying and reuniting animals with their owners, or adopting out or disposing of unclaimed animals. Some emergency plans call for the development of a database of local resources to be used for animal disaster response. Such a database may include, for example, county animal emergency plans, a list of county animal emergency coordinators, available animal shelters and confinement areas.

Since Hurricane Katrina, federal and state emergency planning laws have been changed to 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.

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