Abandoned pets in the wake of Hurricane Irma leads to a moral discussion
After Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans in 2005, many abandoned pets lingered amidst flood waters, waiting for their families to return. Many families never did. Owners were faced with a hard decision: to be left behind with their pets or be rescued without them. According to The Washington Post, general population shelters, such as The American Red Cross, would not take in animals because of health and safety concerns, resulting in many families being separated from their pets for good. As a result, the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act was passed in 2006, which required states to adjust emergency plans to include mandatory pet evacuation, care of rescued animals, and animal response teams.
Despite efforts to aid pets in disasters, many of the same problems arose with recent hurricanes, Harvey and Irma. More animals were rescued thanks to the lesson offered by Katrina, but many of those rescued were being taken to separate facilities—a frustrating experience for the pets and their owners. Many pet owners preferred to risk their lives along with their pets rather than be separated from them.
In Columbus, animal-only shelters, like Paws Humane, have done what they can for animals abandoned and displaced by Irma. Paws, a no-kill shelter, has taken in 43 cats and 34 dogs since the storm and is expecting to receive a few more, according to Bobbi Yeo, CEO. Paws hopes to reunite some animals with their owners, but can only keep them for so long before they must be adopted, since the animals are being housed in a warehouse borrowed from Flournoy & Calhoun Realty.
Though progress is being made, animal evacuation plans are far from ideal.
On a national scale, countless organizations have accepted donations specifically for pet rescue in Texas and Florida. Though progress is being made, animal evacuation plans are far from ideal. Since Irma ripped through Columbus, it is clear that residents need to be aware of what they can do for their pets in the event of a natural disaster.
The best way for pet owners to ensure that their pets are safe during natural disasters is to prepare. Yeo stressed the importance of microchipping pets and making sure they have a collar and ID tag. Many animal advocate organizations, such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), have posted advice and specific steps for owners to take on their websites, such as creating emergency kits for pets and arranging to stay at a pet-friendly shelter ahead of evacuation. “Our pets are full members of our families,” said Yeo. “We owe it to them to take care of them and keep them safe.” Hurricanes develop every year, and these problems are not going away.
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