CT disaster preparedness includes pets too

The effect of disasters on pets and their owners came glaringly to the attention of the nation after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Many people refused to leave without their pets.

According to Dr Arnold Goldman, a Connecticut veterinarian, "Failure to evacuate is considered a public health problem across the country now, and one of the big reasons for that is people are unwilling to leave their animals behind."

In an effort to learn more about how to protect animals during crisis, the Woodbridge community emergency response team or CERT presented a seminar about animal emergency rescue efforts in Connecticut on Feb 10. The seminar was led by Goldman, the executive director of CTSART or the Connecticut state animal rescue team. CTSART was formed in an effort to create the ability to "prepare, plan, respond and recover animals in an emergency situation."

Thirty-four other states in the nation have started SART efforts to deal with animal evacuations.

In fact, a bill put into effect this past year requires that all states have a plan for dealing with animals during disasters.

Goldman cited that 60 percent of American households have at least one pet. "Any disaster that affects a large number of people will affect the animals that they own."

CTSART is attempting to resolve that problem by creating ways to provide shelter for animals, along with the shelter provided for people. According to Goldman, "The main mission of CTSART is to provide the capability to communities to set up co-located animal evacuation shelters-co-located with human evacuation shelters."

At this time, CTSART can deploy to emergency situations with equipment and some 150 volunteers.

The organization has two equipped trailers that can be towed to needy areas. Goldman was confident that CTSART had the capability of running an emergency animal shelter for three to five days.

Goldman explained that evacuees could bring their pets to the adjacent emergency animal shelter. For security purposes, each animal would wear a collar with information that corresponded to a wristband worn by the owner.

In general, the owners themselves would handle the pets, since pets might respond poorly to strange people. According to Goldman, some of the shelters in Louisiana reported 50 bites a day.

Goldman also said that any rescue efforts must deal with large animals, like horses. This is particularly important in Connecticut, since Goldman said, "Connecticut has the highest number of horses per capita in the country."

To participate in the CTSART efforts, there is no need to be a veterinarian. Having some experience with dealing with animals is helpful but not essential.

For those that need some training with animal handling, Goldman offers training sessions with both small and large animals.

In addition to that, volunteers will also complete the same training that CERT members undergo, if they are not already CERT-trained.

Goldman also urged all animal owners to take certain steps to ensure the safety of their pet during disasters. First on the list was to establish appropriate identification.

Goldman recommended using a microchip as the best method. He mentioned that Louisiana is facing over 200 lawsuits stemming from mishandling pets during Hurricane Katrina. Some of the animals that ended up in shelters were given to new owners. When the original owners attempted to regain their pet, the new families refused to part with the animal.

Goldman stressed that any resources used for the animals would not take away from efforts to deal with people. He maintained that not providing for pets left some people at risk of injury because they refused to abandon their pets. Goldman said, "This is mainly about public health and public safety."

As Goldman said, "Aside from their family, the next thing that people hold dear are their animals."

Further information can be obtained at the CTSART Web site at www.ctsart.org or by contacting Dr. Goldman at 860-693-9300.