Those of us in the emergency response community (I directed theNew JerseyDepartment of Agriculture (NJDA)’s emergency response for disasters involving animals for a decade, as the Assistant and then State Veterinarian), have long known the importance of this message.  For more than 20 years, the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association has worked with the NJDA, the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, United States Department of Agriculture and many other state and local governmental and non-governmental agencies to make sure that pets are not left behind during evacuations.  See Animal Emergency Preparedness.  It was with great relief and pride to see that the years of hard work had paid off, and the message to evacuate with your pets, was part of the State’s early warning messaging.

That said, there is more to be done, including some simple steps everyone can take. For example, while Sandy was clearly extraordinarily devastating, people suffer from their own personal disasters and unexpected illnesses daily.  Carrying a card in your wallet that lists any pets you have at home, with their location and perhaps some critical veterinary medical information could help save their lives in the event you are incapacitated and cannot even notify others that your pets are home…alone.  This is particularly important for those people who live alone and may not have family or friends nearby who could pitch in and help.  When advising clients who seek your legal services for estate management, along with discussions about the appropriate use of inter-vivos and testamentary trusts and wills that provide for the care of pets, the use of identification cards are a simple and effective tool that every pet owner should consider carrying.

The basic information on the card should include:  name, species, breed and date of birth of the pet; particular medical needs; pet location (home or doggy-day-care) and contact information for people willing to serve as temporary or permanent care-givers.  As part of the regular legal services you provide, for pet owners, annual or routine updating of these pet identification cards can be part of your ongoing services.  This is important since the number and type of pets change over time, and the interest or willingness of others to care for someone else’s pets may also change.   

In addition to these identification cards, fire departments and other emergency response units may be able to provide a sticker you can use to help identify what pets are in your home, so that first responders will be so-informed if responding to an event at your home.  Other contingency plans,  including  provisions to consider in wills and trusts will be the subject of future blogs.