People without pets may not understand, but to any pet owner, a bill passed by the U.S. House last week makes perfect sense.
The Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act would require state and local emergency preparedness officials to take household pets and service animals into account when drawing up evacuation plans. No Federal Emergency Management Agency funding will be available to any emergency preparedness office that doesn't follow the mandate.
The purpose of the legislation is both humane and practical. The Humane Society of the United States cites a recent Zogby International poll in which 49 percent of adult respondents said they would refuse to evacuate if they couldn't take their pets with them. Not planning for pets obviously can be a deadly mistake not only for the animals but also for their owners.
The problem of trying to force people to abandon their pets was tragically illustrated when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. In a number of cases, people refused to leave their homes without their pets even as floodwaters rose and other dangers mounted. In other cases, rescuers, ordered to evacuate people but not animals, literally pulled owners away from their pets. Thousands of pets perished or were permanently separated from their owners. It was a tragedy both for the animals and the people who had to leave them behind.
The California congressman who sponsored the bill said the idea for the legislation was born when he witnessed a television clip of a little boy losing his dog during the Katrina rescue operation. Watching the boy's face, the congressman said, "was a singularly revealing and tragic experience."
In a desperate situation like Katrina, saving people must be the top priority, but to decide, as a policy matter, to systematically ignore the pets those people treasure is inhumane and cruel to both the pets and their owners.
People without a pet in their lives simply might not understand why someone would choose to send rescuers away and stay with a pet in a desperate attempt to weather a storm like Katrina. And yet, to many pet owners, the idea of leaving a loving and loyal companion behind simply is unthinkable.
Not every pet will be saved by the legislation passed by the House, but requiring emergency personnel to include pets in their planning, will save the lives of many owners and their much-loved animals.