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July 30, 2013
by Cassa Niedringhaus
Colorado State University veterinarians and Extension agents are collaborating on a statewide project to help Colorado communities form disaster plans for pets, so pet needs may be met in the face of wildfires or other disasters.
“The key to effective planning is collaboration, and this project is really about facilitating community capacity building,” said Dr. Ragan Adams, a veterinarian and coordinator of the CSU Veterinary Extension team. “We are committed to supporting an effective dialog that helps communities come to their own best answers regarding pet disaster plans.”
Adams provides coordination for the project, called Community Pet Disaster Planning, to help hone plans for pet evacuation and sheltering.
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, a program of PetAid Colorado in Denver, 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. “Our project is trying to enhance each community's resiliency by planning ahead and working together.”
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 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.
Congress later passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006, which requires that counties and states 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 disaster preparedness at the community and state levels, she offered the following tips for individual animal owners: