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Animal Disaster Planning Legislation Introduced in Washington State

January 23, 2008     E-mail this page to a friend!

More than 1,200 animals died during the recent floods that ravaged southwest Washington State. The majority were farm animals and horses who never had a chance to escape, drowning while locked in stables or unable to move to higher ground. This loss of animal life has taken both an economic and psychological toll on animal owners. Farmers not only lost their animals but their economic livelihoods. Meanwhile, public health officials were forced to deal with overwhelming animal carcass disposal issues.

But legislation introduced in the current session might prevent animal losses from occurring again.

SSB5106, sponsored by Senator Ken Jacobsen, and introduced in committee by Sen. Darlene Fairley, asks the Washington State Department of Emergency Management and the State Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with local emergency management agencies, to develop guidelines to ensure that an animal component is present in emergency response plans. Washington's pet population alone exceeds 3.6 million, not including the millions of farm animals and horses.

The guidelines include recommendations for the evacuation, transportation and sheltering of pets and service animals and recommends that all facilities that house animals have an evacuation plan. The legislation also encourages animal owners to plan for and incorporate their animals into their own personal emergency plans and guidelines to mitigate the impact of future disasters.

For example, "Critter pads," elevated mounds that provide higher ground for farm animals in flood-prone areas, have saved countless cattle from sure death in the Snoqualmie and Skykomish River Valleys and in Tillamook, Oregon.

Hurricane Katrina exposed the catastrophic impact of failing to include animals in emergency planning—thousands of animals perished and countless pet owners refused to evacuate because they did not want to be separated from their animals. In October 2006, after recognizing the importance of including animals in emergency plans, President Bush signed the Federal Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act into law. The law requires that state and local emergency plans address the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals and provides reimbursement to state and local governments for eligible pet evacuation and sheltering activities following a major disaster or emergency. Sixteen states, not including Washington, have passed additional legislation to address the needs of animals. Many of these state's plans include safety precautions for farm animals and horses. Oregon and California, who have had their recent share of disasters, have already enacted similar state legislation.

"As an animal disaster responder following Hurricane Katrina and the San Diego wildfires, I was able to see first-hand the positive outcome of such planning," said Inga Gibson, The HSUS director in Washington state. "Proper planning and recognition that pets ARE part of the family significantly reduced the loss of both human and animal lives."