State Departments of Emergency Management prepare and respond to natural disasters by implementing the orchestrated emergency response plans, which state, federal and non-profit partners help develop over the years. These plans, that also include responses to the intentional or accidental introduction of highly pathogenic zoonotic or strictly animal diseases, are considered ever-green and updated based on emerging technology and review of tabletop exercises.

For those farmers, ranchers, veterinarians, zoos, aquaria, equine facilities, animal shelters, pet stores, biomedical research facilities and companion animal owners in need of assistance following Hurricane Florence and then Hurricane Michael in the South East, I hope the following resources can be of assistance.

South Carolina

On October 8, 2018, South Carolina State Veterinarian Boyd H. Parr, DVM implemented “temporary exceptions to the regulations governing the importation and exportation of animals coming into and leaving South Carolina as a result of Hurricane Michael.  All animals moving under these exceptions are expected to return to their state of origin no later than 10/31/18 unless this order is extended or revised.”  The exceptions, set forth at the Clemson Livestock Poultry Health website, permit interstate movement without a Coggins test result form or Certificate of Veterinary Inspection.

A comprehensive list of resources are available on Clemson’s Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery website, including, for example, links to (1) Hurricane Guidance for Livestock Owners; (2) Disaster Plan for Horses; (3) Emergency Equine Stable Sites; Flooding Hay Request Form; (4) Animal/Agriculture Emergency Support Function (ESF)-17 Ag Damage Assessment Information Form; and (5) Business Continuity for Agriculture/Secure Food Supply Plans.

In the face of Hurricane Florence, South Carolina previously suspended certain motor vehicle requirements, including, “such federal rules and regulations, in conjunction with S.C. Code Ann. §§ 56-5-4010 et seq., which establish size, weight, and load requirements for South Carolina highways, for, in relevant part, “Persons and vehicles transporting livestock, poultry, food for livestock and poultry, and crops ready to be harvested.”

Georgia

In Georgia, the Department of Agriculture has a Hurricane Response Center available on its website that also provides links to relevant information, including tips for those impacted by the storm.  Guidance is available related to livestock, pets, food, fuel, crops and other important information, such as:

0/12/2018 Commissioner Black Gets First Glimpse of Hurricane Michael’s Damage

10/12/2018 Disaster Assistance Discovery Tool

10/11/2018 Hurricane Michael Devastates Georgia’s Agricultural Industry

10/10/2018 Disaster Assistance Fact Sheet

10/10/2018 Press Release: Georgia Department of Agriculture Responds to Threat of Hurricane Michael

10/10/2018 Hurricane Michael: Animal Interstate Movement Requirements for Entry into Georgia from Florida are Temporarily Suspended UPDATED!

10/09/2018 Georgia National Fair Press Release: Fair Closed Wednesday October 10th, 2018

10/09/2018 Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 92 counties in Georgia

Resources for Animal Food Producers in Flooded Areas of Gulf Coast

Like South Carolina, Georgia  and Florida temporarily suspended their interstate importation requirements for the transportation of animals.

Florida

Florida, with its long history of exemplary emergency preparedness and response, continues to implement those plans, including “[s]upporting pet-friendly shelters, agricultural producers, and local communities with various needs for supplies, transportation and staffing.”

North Carolina

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, N.C. State University Cooperative Extension and N.C. Cattlemen’s Association issued a warning on Sept. 22, 2018 to its constituents that “an individual was offering operational recovery assistance to producers with the claim that he had been authorized by the South Carolina state government. A background check on this individual proved this to be false.”

We are asking that if you are contacted by organizations or individuals that you do not know and you have a concern about their legitimacy, to please get the name of the individual/team, phone numbers, emails, license plate numbers, etc. and share that with your county Emergency Management Services.

USDA

A long-time partner with state departments of agriculture in emergency response, USDA provides resources and information on its website.  Its role  is “to provide food, emergency housing, community, as well as farmer and rancher assistance to individuals and small businesses affected by severe storms and flooding . . . [and] to work with states affected by severe storms and flooding regarding requests for various assistance, waivers and flexibilities in administering federal nutrition assistance programs.”  USDA also provides link to FEMA’s app for shelter and related information, as well as disaster assistance programs for farmers.

FDA

FDA, concerned about contamination of crops from floodwaters, provides relevant guidance on its website, “Crops Harvested from Flooded Fields Intended for Animal Food: Questions and Answers.”  In some cases, and with specific FDA approval, crops intended for human consumption can be used for animal feed.

The FDA will work with producers to consider requests to recondition an adulterated crop into animal food on a case-by-case basis. FDA’s compliance guide (CPG 675.200) provides a step-by-step process for reconditioning requests.

AVMA

The AVMA helps veterinarian impacted by disasters and provides emergency preparedness guidance on its website.

Hopefully, everyone impacted by these recent storms will find these and other resources helpful as they rebuild their properties, care for their animals, and recover.

 

As reported by Texas Department of Agriculture the following needs for livestock have been identified:

Donation of Hay and Feed:
The Department is currently working with Texas A&M AgriLife for donations of animal hay and feed. If you would like to donate hay, please call, text or email the TDA staff listed at the number listed below and let us know where the closest drop off location is for you. In your message, please provide your name, phone number, location and type of hay or feed to be donated and whether you have transportation.

Transport
Please note that we do not have transport but we are maintaining contact info for hay donors in the event we get offers for transport or others in your area who may be able to pick up hay. If you have transportation services that you can offer to help bring hay to the Coast from throughout Texas, we need your help! Please give us a call.

Pasture
If you have pasture, please contact us with your information to be put in our database for those who need help. If you are in need of pasture space, please contact us and we can provide information for someone with pasture who may be closest to you and provide assistance.

Water Troughs
If you have water troughs to donate, please contact us for donating those as well. Several of the supply points are in severe need for those.

Contact Jessica Escobar at (512) 803-7847 or Jessica.Escobar@TexasAgriculture.gov if you can help.

Southwest FarmPress reports that hay drops are underway to reach cattle that are lost, stranded, or unable to be reached by ranchers “where flood waters remain standing in fields and roads are still closed and impassable.”

Fortunately, aviation units from the Texas National Guard, from Alabama, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi and other states are responding, loading bales of hay and  launching what promises to be the largest air drop of hay in history, an attempt to provide rescue food for livestock until waters finally recede and herds can be collected, treated, and moved to safety.

 

Choppers have been flying non-stop as state animal biologists and state animal health veterinarians with the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) attempt to identify where small groups of animals are stuck in mud or stranded in water from aerial photographs, from satellite photos and by using UAV (drone) fly-overs.

Still, the loss of livestock, yet to be determined, is expected to be devastating.

As we have seen in footage covering the events following Hurricane Harvey and the unprecedented rain and flooding related thereto, it is extremely important for governments, animal-related business owners and animal owners to take all possible steps to plan for disasters that affect people and animals.

For livestock owners, that means planning to relocate herds and flocks.  When flocks cannot be relocated, back up generators are required to provide electricity for proper maintenance of poultry housing.  Dairy farmers may need government assistance to allow for, or assist, bulk tank pickups to continue.  Local governments must include these facilities in their emergency planning to provide for the adequate care of these animals.

For zoos and aquariums that means planning for adequate temporary containers and caging for relocation, or adequate facilities to shelter in place.  The specialized care required for these animals should be part of emergency planning.

For biomedical research facilities, planning must include the ability of trained personnel to return to the facilities to care for any animals that cannot be evacuated.

For companion animal owners, that means having suitable transport caging available, special medications and feed for the animal(s) with proof of vaccination, and permanent identification of the animals so they can be returned to the owner if separated during the disaster.

The American Veterinary Medical Association, and many other national and local veterinary and animal-related associations have been reporting on and providing assistance to those in need following Hurricane Harvey, and have reported, in part:

The Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) reports that the number of small animals in temporary shelters is fewer than anticipated. However, there are still several counties in southeast Texas that have not been assessed for animal needs because they are difficult to access. TAHC will begin coordination calls among partner animal shelters soon to better identify the number of pets being sheltered from the storm.

More than 6500 pets are being sheltered in temporary emergency shelters in Louisiana

Some organizations have worked together to create and update a map that assists in identifying available services (e.g., shelters, pet stores, veterinary services).

The Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) deployed to the affected areas the day before Harvey hit and continues to assess and provide care for animals in need. This includes search and rescue dogs, pets, horses, cattle, and other livestock that are separated from their owners, as well as wildlife species in need. In addition to small animals, the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital reports they have taken in 34 horses and 2 camels thus far.

Approximately 1.2 million cattle (about 27% of the state’s 4.46 million beef cow herd) are located in the 54 counties affected by Hurricane Harvey. Fortunately many ranchers, assisted by police, were able to herd their cattle to safer ground ahead of the hurricane.

The take home message for all is that disasters―natural or man-made―can happen at any time.  If you own animals, it is important that you take the time to plan for these disasters, and hopefully, you will never have to implement those plans.

For those victims of Hurricane Harvey, we wish you, your families and animals a speedy recovery.

A “Good Samaritan” bill, S 3134, introduced in the New Jersey Senate on May 8, 2017 would “provide immunity from civil liability for veterinarians or emergency responders who assist animals at accident scene or emergency.”  Sister bill A4770 was introduced and referred to the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee on May 11, 2017.

Currently veterinarians have immunity for civil damages for rendering emergency care:

Any individual licensed to practice veterinary medicine who, in good faith, renders emergency care to any animal which has, immediately prior to the rendering of such care, been brought to such individual’s attention at or from the scene of an accident or emergency situation or has been discovered by such individual at the scene of an accident or emergency situation shall not be liable for any civil damages as a result of any acts or omissions by such person in rendering the emergency care.  NJSA 45:16-9.11

So what do these newly introduced bills do differently?

First, it seems as if the bill sponsors and oversight from the Office of Legislative Services may have been unaware of the existing provisions for veterinarians, since the introduced bills purport to amend  NJ Rev Stat § 2A:62A-1 (2013) a statute titled “Civil immunity for emergency care” and there is no citation to the above-mentioned statute, part of the NJ Veterinary Medical Practice Act.

The provisions for veterinarians in these newly proposed bills appears redundant to immunity already provided.

However, the bills would expand the immunity to all “emergency responders” defined as “a law enforcement officer, paid or volunteer firefighter, paid or volunteer member of a duly incorporated first aid, emergency, ambulance, or rescue squad association, or any other individual who, in the course of employment, provides medical care or other assistance at the scene of an accident or emergency.”

The actual provisions of the bills is similar to the immunity provided for in the State Veterinary Practice Act for veterinarians, namely:

An emergency responder or veterinarian who in good faith renders emergency care to an animal at the scene of an accident or emergency shall not be liable for any civil damages as a result of any acts or omissions in rendering the emergency care. Nothing in this section shall exonerate an emergency responder or veterinarian from gross negligence.

It would appear that these bills would provide immunity to emergency responders and veterinarians responding to pets confined in a vehicle during inclement conditions that could be considered emergencies, e.g., excessively high temperatures.

Therefore, while these bills are, in part redundant, they extend immunity to emergency responders and strike an appropriate balance that would benefit pets and their owners.

The foundational documents that set forth the guidelines and plans to be used during disasters are called Emergency Support Function (ESF) Annexes that define how different federal, state and local agencies will coordinate to accomplish critical tasks.

There are 15 different federally designated ESFs.

As described by USDA, the ESF Nos. 5, 6, 8, and 9 include tasks in which veterinarians can and have played important roles.

ESF No. 5 encompasses the overall Emergency Management of the Federal response. The Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency will be the overall ESF Coordinator for the Federal response. This ESF is responsible for supporting overall activities of the Federal Government for domestic incident management – preparedness through recovery.

 

ESF No. 6 Mass Care, Emergency Assistance, Housing, and Human Services addresses the basic needs of people and their pets during the evacuation, care, sheltering, and post-disaster response. Legislation passed after Hurricane Katrina mandated that government’s plan for the evacuation and sheltering of pets and service animals during disasters with their owners. Veterinarians can play important roles in the sheltering and mass care response for pets and service animals.

 

ESF No. 8 Public Health and Medical Services coordinates the Federal response to provide medical (including veterinary) and public health services. This ESF specifically includes “Veterinary Medical Support” and indicates that veterinarians will work in support of ESF #11 (discussed on the next page), as part of the response to zoonotic diseases, and by providing an integrated response to address the needs of companion and service animals during an emergency.

 

ESF No. 9 is the Search and Rescue (SAR) Annex. Veterinarians and technicians who are part of credentialed SAR teams may become involved in support of SAR operations that directly affect animals, as well as caring for animals used in human SAR operations (e.g., search dogs and cadaver dogs). If not part of such teams, they may provide triage and field stabilization services for rescued animals. Individual SARTs and VMRCs may also have cooperative agreements within their state SAR and emergency response teams.

 

In addition to ESFs, New Jersey has a specially trained response team, Task Force 1.

http://www.state.nj.us/njoem/taskforce1/index.html
http://www.state.nj.us/njoem/taskforce1/index.html

Task Force 1 will help identify homes and other buildings where animals are housed or trapped and will help move them to safety or provide critical information to those specifically trained to do so.

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture is responsible for oversight of State emergency response teams and plans affecting animals during emergencies and disasters.  The NJDA website contains information for planning, assisting and response that all animal owners in the state should review to be sure they are adequately prepared to care for their animals at all times.

New Jersey Animal Emergency Response

There are a number of responses that have been established at the national and state level to respond to emergencies that affect animals, either intentionally—as a result of agriterrorism or bioterrorism—or coincidentally as a result of natural disasters or disease outbreaks.

Those teams include:

  1. The National Animal Health Emergency Response Corps (NAHERC) that was established in 2001 by the United States Department of Agriculture to respond to domestic or international animal disease outbreaks and other disasters impacting animal health.
  2. Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams (VMAT®) whose mission is to provide, upon request by a State, operational emergency response and preparedness programs to that State’s animal health authorities, veterinary medical associations, and other relevant organizations.
  3. National Veterinary Response Teams (NVRT), created in 2007 by the the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) as part of its National Disaster Medical System. With the formation of NVRT, some of the previous roles of VMATs “transitioned to one of support at the state and local level and includes conducting early assessments of animal and veterinary medical infrastructure during emergencies and serving as animal emergency response educators in non-urgent times.”

States play a pivotal role in response to any emergency or disaster. State Animal Response Teams (SART) are interagency state organizations dedicated to preparing, planning, responding, and recovering during animal emergencies in the United States.

SART is a public-private partnership, joining government agencies with the private concerns around the common goal of animal issues during disasters. The first SART was founded in North Carolina in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Since then, over 75% of States have developed their own SART, Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps (VMRC) or equivalent organization(s).

All response teams serve under the umbrella of each State’s Emergency Response.

The National Response Framework, part of the National Incident Management System as described on FEMA’s website “is intended to be used by the whole community. The intended audience for this page is individuals, families, communities, the private and nonprofit sectors, faith-based organizations, and local, state, tribal, territorial, insular area, and Federal governments.”

It is important for everyone to be aware of local, state, and federal control over and responsibility for response to emergencies, because, as noted by FEMA:

Government resources alone cannot meet all the needs of those affected by terrorist attacks, natural disasters and other catastrophic events. When disaster strikes, people throughout the community and our nation pitch in to help the response effort.

 

More on emergency response infrastructure soon . . .

The cost of quarantining an animal can be high.  A recent extraordinary example is the reported $27,000 price tag for the quarantine of Bentley, the King Charles spaniel owned by Ebola-infected nurse Nina Pham.  According to NBC, Dallas spent more than $155,000 on its overall response to the outbreak, including the $27,000 for Bentley.  Reportedly, $19,000 was privately donated or granted to offset the cost of Bentley’s quarantine.

The city made the right decision by quarantining rather than euthanizing Bentley, but the excessive cost of similar quarantines could easily drain local resources.  Preventing exposure, when possible, is highly desirable.  This was not necessarily possible in Pham’s case, but anyone traveling back from an Ebola-infected area should consider waiting 21 days before re-uniting with their pet, to avoid any chance that their pet would be quarantined or worse.

The cost of animal disease outbreaks have been well-documented.

The 2003 Exotic Newcastle disease outbreak cost more than $160 million to fight, and resulted in the depopulation of more than 4 million birds.  According to USDA, “this was the largest animal disease outbreak in the United States in 30 years.”

West Nile virus, a virus introduced in the western hemisphere in 1999, cost the equine industry millions of dollars.  USDA reported on the cost of diagnosis, treatment, and lost revenues in response to WNV in horses in Colorado and Nebraska in 2002:

“The estimated total cost attributed to death or euthanasia of equine WNV cases in Colorado and Nebraska equaled $600,660.”

“The estimated revenue lost by owners in Colorado and Nebraska because of lost-use associated with WNV was $163,659.”

“The estimated cost attributed to the treatment of mild, moderate, and severe WNV cases in Colorado and Nebraska equaled $490,844.”

“Vaccination costs probably exceeded $2.75 million in Colorado and Nebraska.”

Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo

In addition to these large-scale animal disease outbreaks, local governments and pet owners pay for disease exposure or infection in pets.  Suspected rabies-infected animals must be quarantined, or in a worst case scenario, tested for the disease. Such tests, performed on brain tissue, require euthanasia of the animal.

While States or local governments often pay for the actual testing in such situations, owners may be charged for some costs, depending on the individual circumstances.  Even when pets have been properly vaccinated, owners may have to pay for additional post-exposure vaccination and the quarantine of their pets.

The quarantine protocols used for a rabies-exposed animal are not nearly as rigorous as those used for an Ebola-exposed animal, and the corresponding costs are exponentially smaller, thankfully.

Preventing infection in animals and people is always preferable-and it can help save money, but more importantly lives.

 

As expected, there is talk of legal action by nurse Kaci Hickox, who was quarantined in New Jersey after allegedly having a fever upon her homecoming to the U.S. during her screening upon entry at Newark airport.  Hickox claims she did not have a fever, and that her quarantine was “not scientifically or constitutionally just,” as CNN reported.

Copyright: stevanovicigor / 123RF Stock Photo

New Jersey has had comprehensive rules outlining the authority, scope, and parameters of Quarantine and Isolation of Humans and Animals.  The model rules for Quarantine and Isolation are applicable in jurisdictions in which the local board of health has adopted the model rules by reference in accordance with New Jersey law, but no local board of health is required to adopt the model rules.”  N.J.A.C. 8:57-1 APPENDIX  

Local Boards of Health have general jurisdictional authority unless “the communicable disease has affected more than one county or has multicounty, statewide, interstate or public health emergency implications.”  N.J.A.C. 8:57-1.10.

Communicable diseases, also defined by the State, include: “[v]iral hemorrhagic fevers, including, but not limited to, Ebola, Lassa, and Marburg viruses.”   N.J.A.C. 8:57-1.5.

The States guidelines define “quarantine” and “quarantinable disease” and set forth the parameters of the isolation or quarantine, if so ordered.

  • “Quarantine” means the physical separation and confinement of an individual or groups of individuals, who are or may have been exposed to a communicable or possibly communicable disease and who do not show signs or symptoms of a communicable disease, from unexposed individuals, to prevent or limit the transmission of the disease to unexposed individuals.
  • “Quarantinable disease” means any communicable disease which presents a risk of serious harm to public health and which may require isolation or quarantine to prevent its spread.

In the case of the quarantine of nurse Hickox in New Jersey, it appears that the State had jurisdictional and regulatory authority to issue its quarantine.

So what about Hickox’s claims that her quarantines in New Jersey (and also in Maine) are unwarranted and unjust?

The speard of ebola virus is generally understood to require direct contact with infected bodily fluids, and that, until symptomatic, people cannot spread the virus.  We also know that many health care workers in Africa and two in the U.S. were infected with the virus while caring for known infected patients.

Dr. Craig Spencer, as reported by the N.Y. Times, after returning from West Africa was hosptialized after developing a low-grade fever.  He has since tested positive for Ebola and his fiancee and two other friends are in “isolation” for 21 days, even though it is unlikely they were exposed to “infected bodily fluids.”  Also, public health officials are tracking Dr. Spencer’s movements the day before he developed a fever, to identify potential contacts, even though Mayor Bill de Blasio assured New Yorkers that “Being on the same subway car or living near a person with Ebola does not in itself put someone at risk.”

This may appear to some as mixed or even conflicting messaging.

Not so.

We may understand the mechanics of the spread of ebola virus, but do not fully understand how and when certain people, particularly health care workers are infected.  We would expect nurse Hickox and Dr. Spencer to have used the same protective gear and protocols in Africa, yet at least one was infected with ebola, despite those measures.  It is still not clear how the nurses in Texas became infected.  If and when we can identify how those exposures occurred, we can help avoid similar contact in the future, and possibly identify those at higher, or lower, risk of infection, modifying isolation and quarantine measures accordingly.

At this point, we  know that the incubation period of ebola is 21 days, at least 95% of the time.  Therefore, from a strictly scientific standpoint, the best way to minimize the chance of viral spread is to limit exposure to others during that waiting period.

These measures, “out of abundance of caution,” are commonly used to prevent or mimimize disease spread during animal disease outbreaks, including Equine Herpes Virus outbreaks.

Not that people are horses, but reviewing the lessons learned from controlling EHV outbreaks may help in our understanding of how and why quarantines are imposed.

More on “Lessons Learned from Animal Quarantines” coming soon . . .

 

The impending court-ordered euthanasia of Excalibur-the dog owned by the Ebola infected nurse’s aide in Spain-is not only unnecessary from an animal and public health perspective, it is a dangerous precedent that could hamper efforts to identify and stop the spread of this devastating disease.

That said, dogs and other animals may become infected with Ebola, so public health plans should include provisions to identify and minimize spread amongst all potentially-infected species.  According to Sharon Curtis Granskog, a spokeswoman for the American Veterinary Medical Association, “I think it’s possible that dogs might spread Ebola, but it’s not likely in the U.S. or other places where dogs aren’t near corpses or eating infected animals.”

Scientists, “[d]uring the 2001–2002 outbreak in [Africa] observed that several dogs were highly exposed to Ebola virus by eating infected dead animals.”  Ebola Virus Antibody Prevalence in Dogs and Human Risk, Loïs Allela et al, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Vol. 11, No. 3, March 2005.

The 31.8% seroprevalence in tested dogs, with no clinical signs of the disease, lead to the scientists’ conclusion that:

“A significant positive direct association existed between seroprevalence and the distances to the Ebola virus–epidemic area. This study suggests that dogs can be infected by Ebola virus and that the putative infection is asymptomatic.”

It is well known that wild animals, particularly bats and monkeys, may be involved in the spread of Ebola in Africa, as described by the CDC:

“Ebola may be spread as a result of handling bushmeat (wild animals hunted for food) and contact with infected bats. There is no evidence that mosquitos or other insects can transmit Ebola virus. Only mammals (for example, humans, bats, monkeys, and apes) have shown the ability to become infected with and spread Ebola virus.”

None of this information supports Spain’s decision to euthanize a clinically healthy pet, who has not been consuming infected carcasses.  However the animal and public health community should convene to establish reasonable, protective measures to ensure that exposure to pets, particularly dogs, from infected, exposed, or potentially exposed people is minimized.  Preventing such exposure will alleviate concerns that pets could spread the virus.

Copyright: elenabsl / 123RF Stock Photo

Animal health officials are well-equipped for such an endeavor.  State and Federal emergency plans have been developed to deal with all natural or man-made disasters, including highly contagious disease outbreaks.  As the former New Jersey State Veterinarian, I have overseen the quarantine of hundreds of thousands of animals, which were not euthanized, but instead were strictly monitored, tested, and released from quarantine only after all laboratory and clinical signs of infection no longer existed.

People love their pets.  They may be less likely to seek medical treatment, especially when they first become sick, if they fear that the government will euthanize their pets.

Since early intervention is critical to decrease the spread of the virus from infected people, planning should encourage, not discourage early treatment.

As nations around the world are ramping up efforts to stop the spread of Ebola, those plans should include the appropriate measures to protect both people and their pets, not punish them.

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.