Whether earthquake or small kitchen fire, preparation saves lives

This is one part of our 2009 Disaster Preparedness series. Click here for additional coverage.

I will never forget watching the disturbing televised footage of a Golden Retriever swimming after a rescue boat. How happy he must have been to see people; friends, he probably believed. He saw the boat, leapt into the current. They would save him as surely as he would have saved them. How devastated he must have felt when they sped away, leaving him alone, struggling in the floodwaters. 

It’s been four years since Hurricane Katrina drowned New Orleans and devastated the Gulf Coast region. Katrina was a disaster on so many levels. For animals, it was a holocaust. There are estimates that as many as 600,000 were left behind to fend for themselves. Thousands perished; many drowned, others succumbed to dehydration, starvation, heat or disease in the weeks and months that followed. 

In 2005, no laws existed requiring that animals be evacuated, rescued or sheltered in the event of a disaster. In fact, animals could not even accompany evacuees. After losing literally everything but their lives, stranded Katrina survivors were dealt the ultimate blow when authorities forced them to abandon their beloved pets, refusing to allow animals into boats, buses and other vehicles transporting people to safety and shelter. People had no idea the disaster would prevent them from returning to their homes for months, or forever. They left enough food and water for their pets for a few days. Government agencies never considered the animals. Few people had planned for their pets’ evacuation. With no place to take them, some stayed behind, not wanting to leave their animal companions — risking and in some cases losing their own lives. 


Solid Gold Northwest distributes a dry dehydrated food by Honest Kitchen. The product can easily be stored in 10-lb quantities that rehydrate to 43 lbs. of fresh food. The 4-lb size rehydrates to 17 lbs. of food. Food available for both cats and dogs.One blessing out of the ashes was the widespread realization of the horrible plight of animals in emergency circumstances, opening the way for change. The aftermath brought picture after heartbreaking picture of the impact of having no disaster plans in place for animals. This created enough concern to move Congress to enact the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act. The PETS Act requires local and state emergency preparedness authorities to include in their evacuation plans provisions to accommodate household pets and service animals in the event of a major disaster. The Act gives the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) the authority to assist in developing these plans, allows financial support for states to create and operate emergency shelters for people with their pets, and for FEMA to provide aid to individuals with companion or service animals and the animals themselves following a disaster. 

An event needn’t be a Category 3 Hurricane to end in tragedy. In the Northwest, “earthquake” usually comes to mind first when considering possible large-scale disasters. The fact is, a simple kitchen fire can end in catastrophe for a family — or community — and its pets.

Spot sought out Julie Green, Director of Tigard PETS for information and simple steps pet owners can and should take now to ensure the best chance for a positive outcome should disaster strike.

Tigard PETS is a nonprofit pet support organization that educates guardians about preparedness for their pets before, during and after emergencies large and small. The organization is also equipped to assemble and administer a shelter plan in the event of a disaster.


In a major catastrophe, state and local governments must first take care of people, so it’s critical that pet guardians be prepared to meet the needs of their animal companions. Even after dramatic lessons taught by events like Katrina, “awareness in this area is slow,” Green says. “That’s because [locally] there have been no large-scale disasters in living memory since the Columbus Day storm in 1964.” she adds.

The most important step to protect your pets in cases of evacuation is to take them with you. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR PETS BEHIND! Of course in order to do this, should the need arise, you must know first where you will be able to take them. “That’s why planning and preparing is so important,” says Green.

  • Identify ahead of time, pet-friendly shelters, boarding facilities and veterinary offices. Contact hotels/motels outside the immediate area to check on their pet policies. Some will waive their pet policies in an emergency. Contact friends & relatives outside your local area and ask if they would be willing and able to shelter you and your animals, or just your animals, if needed.

Green adds that having an out-of-area contact is important because local phone service would apt to be overloaded or out completely in an emergency.

Disaster may strike or an evacuation order may come when you are not at home. “This area has the unique problem of bridges, which could hinder one’s ability in a major disaster,” says Green. What to do? “Talk to your neighbors,” Green says, and make sure someone is designated to care for and/or evacuate your pets if you can’t.

  • Develop a buddy system with a mutual agreement as part of your emergency plan. Your designated person should have a key to your home, be comfortable with your pets, know where they are likely to hide, and where to find your disaster supplies. Determine a location to meet.

Speaking of disaster supplies, just as you should have one for your family, pet guardians should maintain an emergency supply kit for furry and feathered family members.

  • Pet Emergency Kits should contain food (in an airtight, waterproof container), water and medicines for at least three to five days, medical and veterinary records, first-aid and sanitation supplies, pet carriers, litter & litter box, bedding, toys, leashes and collars with current ID and rabies tags and current photos of you and your pet together (to document ownership in case you and your pet become separated).

An estimated 15,000 animals were rescued in the aftermath of Katrina. Precise figures are difficult to obtain due to the number of groups involved in rescue efforts. Reuniting pets with owners was a huge challenge because thousands of animals were transferred out of the region and did not have proper identification.

It is imperative that microchips and tags have the most current information,” says Green. “After a disaster, claiming pets is a huge problem.”

And in the case of that grease fire? One small, inexpensive yet crucial thing all pet guardians should have: a “Pets Inside” decal on the front door letting emergency personnel know the number and type of animals in the home. “Every pet owner should have one,” says Green.

Though a dear price was paid, Katrina did teach many lessons. Take the time now — when time is on your side and the pressure’s off — to get yourself and your pet prepared. Doing so now can save precious minutes in an emergency — not to mention additional stress, heartache, and even your best friends’ lives.

For more information on disaster preparedness, go to: TigardPETS.org and ready.gov or call 1-800-BE-READY. To learn about emergency plans that include animals in your community, contact your city’s Emergency Manager.


Animal Aid is offering workshops on disaster preparedness this month. Here’s the lineup:

Calm in a Crisis Using TTouch

  • Tuesday, Nov. 3, 7pm at PetUtopia in Beaverton. Cost $10
  • T-Touch been used successfully to address timidity, nervousness, separation anxiety and more –exactly what’s needed to help a fearful companion through a stressful event. Learn these tools ahead so you’ve got them when you need them. This “humans only” session is led by Ute Luppertz M.A, TTouch P1 of Pet’s Point of View Holistic Pet
  • RSVP at PetUtopia or to classes@AnimalAidPDX.org, or 503-244-2060.

Pet First Aid 

  • Monday Nov. 16, 7pm at PetUtopia in Beaverton. $25 donation
  • A basic course to prepare for common pet injuries and issues. Geared for the “family on the street,” students do not earn certification. The presentation is derived in part from training programs used by the OHStar technical rescue teams. This “humans only” session is led by Leah Pfaff, CVT, of the OHStar Volunteer-based Animal Rescue Team
  • RSVP at PetUtopia or to classes@AnimalAidPDX.org, or 503-244-2060.