After Hurricane Katrina, people started paying attention to making sure their pets were a priority for disaster relief. In 2005, nearly half the people who chose to stay behind and not be rescued in Louisiana did so because they wanted to stay with their pets.
As a result, major changes were made to federal and state emergency planning laws to count pets like other members of society.
Locally, volunteers in San Mateo County have come together to form a disaster response team working with the Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA. The team includes 15 to 20 volunteers who receive special training to respond to pet-related emergency situations. This includes things such as learning how to administer pet first aid, how to microchip a small animal, how to care for and feed animals in a shelter and how to set up a mobile shelter and veterinary clinic at a disaster site.
Juliana Barr and her wife, Allison, are longtime residents of Half Moon Bay and dog owners themselves. They both serve as volunteers for the response team.
During an emergency, team volunteers may be asked to set up a mobile shelter at a designated evacuation site. The Humane Society received a grant for three cargo trailers that are stocked with food, water and basic medical supplies. One of them is located in Half Moon Bay and can be used if there is ever the need to set up an emergency shelter.
Volunteers for the humane society’s team could be called into service at any time. The group holds bi-monthly check-in calls to make sure the radio system is working properly.
Volunteers can also be asked to respond to emergencies outside of San Mateo County. Barr said disaster response team volunteers were called for the San Bruno pipeline explosion, the fires in Napa County in 2017 and, most recently, for the Camp Fire in Butte County.
But while Barr acknowledges the important role the response team plays, she knows “as with any emergency preparedness, it starts at home.”
Barr recommends having at least a week’s supply of food and water on hand, having a bowl to serve the food in, having collars and leashes so animals can be secured, and having a crate or carrier for transportation.
Other things to do ahead of the disaster are updating a pet’s identification tags and preparing a list of pet-friendly hotels in the area.
Some shelters and pet-focused nonprofits in the county are making information readily accessible to pet owners for how to prepare before a disaster happens.
“A big piece of what we do revolves around education and making sure pet owners are prepared,” said chair of the organization, Jo Hamilton.
For more information visit: phs-spca.org/