Of the many stories brought to the country’s attention in the months following the landfall and destruction of Hurricane Katrina, perhaps none was as horrific to dog owners as those involving pets. In 2005, no laws existed that required animals be evacuated or sheltered during a natural disaster emergency. Instead of abandoning their pets, many owners put their and their pet’s lives in peril by riding out the storm, and its aftermath, in flood- and wind-damaged homes.
In response, Congress passed the federal Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (P.E.T.S.) Act in 2006. P.E.T.S., in part, directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator to ensure that state and local emergency plans take into account the needs of individuals with pets and service animals during a major disaster or emergency. In turn, many states passed laws that address disaster evacuation, relocation, and sheltering planning with pets.
In light of the terrible flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey currently affecting southeast Texas, here is a brief review of Texas’ and neighboring Louisiana’s disaster preparedness laws as they impact household pets.
In Texas, the Division of Emergency Management is directed to assist political subdivisions in developing plans for the humane evacuation, transport, and temporary sheltering of service animals and household pets in a disaster. Specifically, subsection (11) of section 418.043 of Texas’ Government Code requires the Division of Emergency Management to, “assist political subdivisions in developing plans for the humane evacuation, transport, and temporary sheltering of service animals and household pets in a disaster…” This provides localities the flexibility to address disasters based on various factors, including type, geographic impact, and resources available.
Similarly, Louisiana law requires the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to assist parish officials in the formulation of emergency operation plans for the humane evacuation, transport, and temporary sheltering of service animals and household pets. The State is also required to ensure that individuals who use service animals are accompanied by those service animals during an evacuation, and is encouraged to ensure that other individuals evacuating with household pets remain together. The Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness has also established an identification system to enable household pets who are separated from their owners during an evacuation to be identified, located, and easily reclaimed. It is required that owners accompanied by household pets that are safely and securely confined in cages/carriers be allowed to utilize public transportation services; or in the alternative, to provide separate transportation for the pets.
At the local level, parish heads of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness are required to develop emergency operation plans for the humane evacuation, transport, and temporary sheltering of service animals and household pets in times of emergency or disaster; including the mandatory establishment of plans for evacuation of household pets. Parish Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness officials may delegate any or all of the evacuation, transportation, sheltering, or other functions to an agency in the parish with authority over animal control or animal related issues.
In addition to this brief overview, the American Kennel Club has published important information to help dog owners stuck in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Please read Everything Dog Lovers Need to Know about Hurricane Harvey. For more information on disaster preparedness laws impacting pets and their owners, contact AKC’s Government Relations Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.