By Mickey Zeldes
You’d have to have had your head in the sand for the past week if you don’t know about Harvey. This is probably the largest and most costly natural disaster to have ever happened in the United States since we started tracking storms. The category four hurricane did an immense amount of damage to one of the most populated cities in the US. And after the winds died down, the rain continued causing horrendous flooding. Even though people had warning and knew it was coming, the severity of the storm took everyone by surprise and many people were forced to evacuate without much notice.
A major difference between this hurricane and Katrina, which hit 12 years ago, is that this time people were encouraged to take their pets with them. It was a hard lesson learned that people refused to vacate their homes without their pets and new laws came about ensuring that people's animals would be included in all future disaster plans. It’s interesting and a bit sad, how judgmental people are about others in life-threatening situations. I’ve heard people say repeatedly, no matter the situation, “Oh, I would never leave/give up my pets.” But there are myriad reasons why it could happen that pets get left behind. So, in addition to having to set up facilities for the pets of the evacuees, there is a huge effort to go back through the areas affected and rescue any animals that were left behind. There are several national groups assisting the local agencies and donations are needed to get this work done. Sadly, there isn’t one group overseeing this so donate to a group that you trust – HSUS, ASPCA and Best Friends are all there and the Houston SPCA is also in need of support.
In addition to pets in homes, there are the strays that never had a home, livestock and wildlife -- all equally affected and in danger. There have been so many heart-warming stories shared on Facebook about people with boats going around to help their neighbors (and strangers) evacuate. Shelters across America have stepped up to accept animals that were already in the Houston area shelters so that they would have the space to take in the new evacuees. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg so to speak.
It’s great that people could get their pets out of their homes and stay together in the emergency centers that were set up. But once the immediacy of the moment is over and people move on to stage two of a critical situation, which is cleanup and assessment, the question remains where will these people and pets, go? Many not only lost their homes in this disaster but they lost their jobs too when nearby businesses were destroyed. Without a means to support themselves and no home, these people are at the mercy of family or friends who are willing to take them in – and sometimes the pets are not as welcomed. Often the logistics and expense of keeping the pet they rescued becomes too much and in the end, they get surrendered. What a heartbreaking situation to be in.
It’s a good time to check your own emergency disaster plans and kits. They say to be prepared to be on your own for about three days. Do you have pet food included? A printout of any medications your pets are on? Do you have a designated person outside your immediate area that all family members know to use as a contact person? Carriers and crates for your pets so you can take them with you into a motel or evacuation center? Extra litter and a litter scoop that is easily assessable? Are all your pets microchipped and wearing collars and ID tags to make reuniting you with your pets easy? Reminder that both are free to RP and Cotati City residents at the RP Animal Shelter – glad we can help you check one item off your list!
If hearing about Houston is not enough to get serious about planning for an emergency then you truly are living with your head in the sand. Know that your pets are counting on you to be prepared and able to provide for them during whatever nature throws our way – power outages, heat waves, flooding, hurricanes – or in our area more likely, earthquakes. I hope you’re ready!
Meet the Bunny, 2nd Saturday of each month (next one is Sept 9), 1-5:00 p.m. at the shelter. Meet our adorable adoptable rabbits, have your care questions answered by our knowledgeable volunteers, bring your bunny for a free nail trim, and shop our Bunny Boutique for fresh hay, fun toys and fabulous deals on supplies.
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at email@example.com.