Anyone who owns a dog or cat will readily agree: Pets are full-fledged family members. They bond with us in unique and lasting ways, and just like keepsakes of our children, we carry pictures of our pets around in our wallets.

But have you ever given thought to what would happen in an emergency — if you had to leave home upon notice of an advancing hurricane, imminent flood or ice storm? What would happen to your pet? Could you bring that furry, four-legged friend to a shelter with you?

On Sunday, the Bridgton Veterinary Hospital held its second annual Pet Community Event where members of the Cumberland County Animal Response Team were on hand to get people thinking about what to do with pets during an evacuation.

“After hurricane Katrina, Congress passed the Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act,” said team member Roy Gorman. “It requires local jurisdictions to incorporate household pets and service animals into their disaster preparedness programs.”

Hurricane Katrina was a wake-up call for the nation in many ways. A major metropolitan area had to evacuate, and quickly. Officials later learned many folks stayed in their homes, refusing to evacuate simply because their pets were not welcome at public shelters. Authorities also discovered that those with pets who did leave returned to their homes long before it was safe out of concern for animals left behind.

“It surprises me that Katrina was the first time this came into public knowledge,” said Gorman. “Animals are really part of people’s family.”

With 25 volunteers, Gorman said the county’s Animal Response Team, based in Windham, is likely the largest animal response squad in Maine. It coordinates with FEMA and the Emergency Management Agency in Augusta. This September will mark two years since its inception. Although they do not have a dedicated pet-friendly shelter for the region, one should be available soon. Gorman said the middle school in the town of Cumberland could become Cumberland County’s shelter of choice for pet owners, and the team is working on finding other potential pet-friendly shelters.

Gorman said there is plenty pet owners can do at home ensure their pets’ safety. A “go pack” is something pet owners should have prepped and ready with pet supplies for a minimum of 72 hours. These include the obvious such as food, water, medicines and ID tags, but the team also advises people to have copies of vaccination records and a picture of you and your pet together. Storing that photo on a cell phone is also a good idea.

“We would be there to monitor the situation (at a shelter), but problems arose during Hurricane Katrina where folks posing as owners were claiming beautiful purebred dogs,” said Gorman.”

“Microchipping” your pet is also encouraged as an effective way to reunite lost pets with their owners. A small transmitter acts like a permanent ID tag and is placed under the animal’s skin in its neck. It can be scanned to reveal identification information. Bridgton Veterinary Hospital is currently running a $30 special on this service.

The Animal Response Team is also looking for volunteers. People who wish to assist need to take some FEMA courses online, as well as pet CPR, pet first aid and their human equivalents. Community Emergency Response Training is also needed.

The program is still young. Contacting all communities in Cumberland County and coming up with pet-friendly action plans is somewhat new thinking. “We’ve really just gotten started with our outreach efforts,” said Gorman. “We networked and did presentations with the FEMA office in Augusta this April. We finally got our brochures, poster and logo approved and are now starting our outreach. We’re fanning out to various veterinary offices and kennels to get the word out.”

CCART’s outreach tied in perfectly with the mission of Bridgton’s Pet Community Event. “We want to educate the members of our community to the services that are out there,” said Judy Huntress, manager of Bridgton Veterinary Hospital. “Each year we try to make it bigger and better.”

To find out more visit www.cumberlandcounty.org/ccart or call 892-6785.

 

Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at: [email protected]