CSU veterinarians and extension agents help with community disaster planning for pets

Colorado State University veterinarians and extension agents are collaborating on a statewide project to help Colorado communities form disaster plans to help pets’ needs be met in the face of wildfires or other disasters.

“This project is really about facilitating community capacity building,” said Ragan Adams, a veterinarian and coordinator of the CSU Veterinary Extension team who will coordinate the Community Pet Disaster Planning project. “We are committed to supporting an effective dialog that helps communities come to their own best answers regarding pet disaster plans.”

The project involves veterinarians in the CSU College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, faculty members in the CSU School of Social Work, and 14 CSU Extension agents in counties statewide. PetAid Disaster Services of Denver, a branch of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association, also is contributing.

“Everyone involved comes to the conversation with the shared understanding that part of our responsibility to our pets and livestock is to be prepared for them in case of emergencies and disasters,” Adams said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is supporting the project with a $100,000 grant, and those involved hope the project will identify the most appropriate ways to approach the unique challenges of disaster planning in the Intermountain West.

Wildfires are on the minds of many Coloradans, yet a hurricane sparked the notion of communitywide disaster preparedness for pets.

Responders during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 found that nearly half the people who refused to evacuate stayed at home during the storm because they could not take their pets, Adams said. Many evacuees abandoned their pets during the disaster because they had no other options.

The next year, Congress passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006, which requires counties and states to have emergency plans for the evacuation and sheltering of pets and service animals in order to qualify for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The CSU project will help the state of Colorado and its individual counties meet the requirements of this federal legislation in order to receive FEMA disaster aid if it is needed, Adams said.

The two-year project will wrap up with simulated exercises to test the pet plans and trained volunteer organizations, said Debrah Schnackenberg, executive director of PetAid Disaster Services of Denver. Schnackenberg is the CSU project’s expert on disaster planning and response.

Even as Adams and her colleagues consider emergency preparedness at the community and state levels, she offered the following tips for individual animal owners:

• Prepare an emergency kit for your animals that contains three days of food and water, bowls, leashes, medical history, proof of vaccination, and medications.
• Post information about your pets in your house and barn so that first responders have the information they need to help animals on the property.
• Form an evacuation plan that may be executed if and when it’s needed; keep the plan updated.
• Know your neighbors, and share your plans with them and others who might be appropriate. Remember that disaster may strike when you unable to reach pets at home, so advance preparation is important.

For more information about disaster preparedness, including planning for the needs of animals, visit http://veterinaryextension.colostate.edu and www.petaidcolorado.org.

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