Downeast Dog News
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Maine’s Animal Response Teams Help Pet Owners in Disasters

By Susan Spisak | Oct 27, 2017

For severe ice and snow storms, strong Nor'easters, hurricanes, tropical storms, floods, tornadoes, forest fires, or any natural or man-made disasters that bring a mandated evacuation, it’s essential, especially for pet owners, to be well-prepared for an emergency.

I spoke to Ron Jones, Project Coordinator for the Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency. This agency (like other similar agencies in Maine), has a variety of highly skilled and trained emergency management response teams that play key roles during disasters, including their Animal Response Team, which is referred to as The Cumberland County Animal Response Team or CCART. (Jones is also a member of the CCART Liaison.)

The CCART mission is to provide community awareness of disaster planning and preparedness related to companion animals and large animals and to coordinate and assist in emergency sheltering of companion animals. Their partners include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Red Cross, and the state’s Emergency Management Agency.

Animal Response Teams began nationally after Hurricane Katrina because of lessons learned from that natural disaster. Many people refused to leave their homes in greater New Orleans and the Gulf coast states because they had pets. (According to a 2006 Fritz Institute survey, about 44% of those who didn’t evacuate stayed, at least in part, because they didn’t want to leave their pets.) Those who took them along to a shelter were turned away, Jones said.

“That was the genesis of the government and FEMA suggesting to states and counties that they provide sheltering for pets along with people,” said Jones.

As a result, in 2006 Congress passed The Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards or PETS Act, which authorizes FEMA to provide rescue, care, shelter, and essential needs for individuals with household pets and service animals following a major disaster or emergency.

Maine’s Emergency Shelters

“If you’re told to evacuate, take yourself and your pets. The authorities are taking a lot into account, not just what’s outside your window. I know Mainers are tough, resilient folks, but they should evacuate and not hunker down [in a mandated evacuation] and hope for the best.” Jones recalled the ice storm of ’98, where parts of Maine were without power for three weeks. “There are resources to support you out there. If folks are asked to evacuate, they should.”

Statewide resources include these human and pet-friendly shelters that allow residents to choose safety in event of an evacuation. And there’s a need, where at least 63% of Maine’s households have pets.

Oxford County Animal Response Team (OXCART) was the first in Maine to organize in 2006. Jones said they have a “pretty robust sheltering program.” Cumberland County came on board next in 2008, thanks in part to his wife, Adele Jones, President of Almost Home Rescue, an all-breed dog non-profit. He laughed and said she contacted their Emergency Management Agency Director, Jim Budway, about the area’s animal sheltering capabilities. He said, “‘Funny you should mention that. Can I enlist your help?’” So the Mrs. put together Cumberland County’s first team.

CCART has the support of emergency management and volunteer staff. They have the capabilities and training to set up, maintain, and subsequently take down, a clean and sanitary “co-located” animal shelter in conjunction with a Red Cross or other community human shelter, which means they are sheltered within walking distance of their owners. (For example, Westbrook High School is a human shelter in Cumberland County, while there’s an area in the adjacent Westbrook Regional Vocational Center for crated pets.)

Today, Cumberland County has identified many regional, all-access, all-inclusive shelters, meaning that all people, including those with special needs, disabilities, and/or companion animals (dogs/cats/pocket pets), can find shelters within the county. Jones noted that service animals are the only animals allowed in the human shelters.

Other counties have Animal Response Teams with like capabilities. In addition to Oxford and Cumberland, there’s Somerset County Animal Response Team, Hancock County Emergency Animal Response Team (H.E.A.R.T.), Knox County Animal Response Team (Knox CART), Aroostook County Animal Response Team, York County Animal Response Team (YCART) and Waldo County Pet Shelter Team. (And if you live in or near one of these counties, there’s always a need for volunteers.)

If there is a mandated evacuation and you don’t know where to head for safety, call Maine’s emergency information hotline at 2-1-1, or if you have a rotary phone, dial 1-866-811-5695. You’ll be advised where to find the closest human and pet-friendly co-located shelter.

 

Be Prepared & Plan Ahead

Put together what’s referred to as a “Go Bag” for your pet. Guidelines suggest supplies for a 3 day evacuation. The bag should include pet food and water, cat litter and disposable litter pan, medicines, collar with ID tags, leash, animal first aid kit, a picture of you and your pet, cash, crate (mark with your pet’s name, your name and phone number on it), soft crate pillow, sanitation bags, and if your dog is snappy, a muzzle. You’ll need a photocopy of vet immunization info. If your pet is not up-to-date on shots it will receive what’s needed at the shelter by volunteer vet staff members at your expense.

For yourself and family members, also pack a Go Bag. Maine.gov suggests items such as medicines, bottled water, non-perishable snacks, flashlight and batteries, an extra set of house and car keys, first aid kit, toiletries, and a change of clothing. For the full list, visit http://www.maine.gov/mema/prepare/prep_display.shtml?163573. (Also Google “Grab and Go Bag,” and “Pet Grab and Go Bag.” Many big box and online stores sell a variety of ready-made bags.)

If your important paperwork isn’t already in a safety deposit box, do so now--or upload documents to a ready-to-go thumb drive. Include personal ID’s, marriage certificate, social security card, living will, deed to home, medical, flood, homeowners/renters insurance, etc.

Have a family plan. Talk to your family about emergency plans in the event of an evacuation. (If there is not a mandated evacuation, it’s still a good idea to be prepared for an emergency. For a full list of home preparedness, check this American Red Cross list at http://www.redcross.org/get-help/prepare-for-emergencies/be-red-cross-ready/get-a-kit.

Poke around now to find the nearest shelter and pet-friendly co-located shelter. Since your pet will need to be crated for extended periods of time, make sure it is crate-trained and bring it along if you can.

Jones also stressed the importance of asking yourself, “‘Do I have a friend or family member that is in an unaffected area and could take us in?’” Or look for pet-friendly hotels or motels that are in a safe locale.

He reiterated to be prepared. “For us to help you, you have to help us. We want you to have a Go Bag; we want you to have a family p and be attuned to where the local pet-friendly shelter is. And do you have a family member or friend that could take you in?” He added while there’s still work to be done (not all counties/states have emergency plans and/or shelters in place), it’s heartening to see the strides made to include pets in the mandatory evacuation and sheltering process.