District of Columbia Includes Pets in Disaster Planning

Emergency management and health officials in Washington, D.C. have signed a plan that puts the district in an elite field among jurisdictions across the country - cities and counties that have formally adopted plans to include pets in disaster planning.

The District of Columbia Department of Health led the effort, working with the D.C. Emergency Management Agency and the Humane Society of the United States, which applauded the district's plan. The signing comes 2 months after President George Bush signed legislation that requires states and local governments to draw up plans to include pets in disaster planning.

A poll conducted by Zogby International following Hurricane Katrina found that 61 percent of pet owners said they would not evacuate before a disaster if they could not bring their pets. The majority of American households - 63 percent - include pets.

"After Hurricane Katrina, many residents would not evacuate because they could not take their pets," said Barbara Childs-Pair, director of the DC Emergency Management Agency. "This would not happen in the District of Columbia because we have plans in place that allow residents to shelter people with their pets. We also have a very good relationship between government agencies and those humane organizations like the Humane Society of the United States that would assist us with animal protection and care."

The district's Department of Health oversees all aspects of animal sheltering, including provisions for people with animals. The Department of Health, in cooperation with the Red Cross, was able to accommodate the needs of Katrina evacuees who brought their pets with them to facilities in the District. Director Gregg A. Pane, M.D., reiterated that importance of providing a safe haven for people and their pets in times of disaster. "I will never forget the story of the woman who carried her two chihuahuas on her head as she walked though the neck deep water for 8 miles to safety and how she cried when she got to the District and we set up a cage for her dogs next to her bed in the Armory," said Pane.

The Humane Society of the United States encourages families to prepare for disaster to strike. "The district's plans are excellent and we commend them for including pets in disaster planning, but every household should take responsibility for their own planning and not rely on government agencies for assistance in an emergency," said Oliver Davidson, a senior disaster advisor to the HSUS.

The HSUS provides tips for including pets in disaster planning at www.hsus.org/disaster.

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