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Emergency shelter options exist for pet owners, helpers
By Kaitlyn Byrne
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Pet owners should make finding pet-friendly emergency shelters a priority, as these shelters are safe havens for all “family” members during evacuations caused by hurricanes or other threats.
Dr. Diana Eubanks, an associate clinical professor at Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, is a member of MSU’s Disaster Animal Response Team. She said concern for pets should never keep people in harm’s way when disasters strike. Planning a disaster strategy for pets can prevent fatalities if a disaster does occur.
“None of us wants to think about a pet being left to fend for itself when a hurricane or other natural disaster is imminent,” Eubanks said. “In some cases, people may be unwilling to evacuate simply because they cannot take their pets with them. This can create a dangerous situation for the people as well as rescue personnel.”
Eubanks said the CVM team cooperates with the Mississippi Animal Response Team and the state veterinarian’s office to have a plan in place for setting up pet-friendly shelters. These emergency shelters have protected hundreds of pets during past incidents.
“I worked at one of the shelters during Hurricane Gustav,” Eubanks said. “The shelter was set up for people in Jackson at the coliseum. We housed about 200 small animals, mostly dogs. There was also a shelter for horses adjacent to the building we were in.”
Eubanks said pet owners can contact CVM or the state veterinarian’s office to find the pet-friendly shelters in their area. Pets should be current on vaccinations to prevent the spread of disease in the close quarters of shelters.
The disaster shelters always need monetary donations and volunteers to walk dogs and clean out cages, Eubanks said.
“It is not a glamorous position, but the pay -- tail wags and puppy kisses -- is amazing,” she said.
Eubanks said volunteers need to work through an organization that will work with the Mississippi Animal Response Team, or MART, the state’s official coordination and response team for disasters involving animals.
“In these serious situations, protocols must be followed and volunteers need to work under the supervision of MART to help things run smoothly and avoid any mishaps,” she said.
Dr. Brigid Elchos, deputy state veterinarian, said the Mississippi Board of Animal Health worked with the Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association and MSU College of Veterinary Medicine to set up the Mississippi Animal Disaster Fund shortly after Hurricane Katrina. The fund is used to provide financial assistance to Mississippi residents with animals affected by disasters within the state.
“So far, the fund has helped people affected by hurricanes, tornados and river floods so far,” Elchos said. “People can donate to help with general disasters or to the care of specific animals, such as livestock or house pets.”
Elchos said MART has more than 500 members, and membership is free. She said the best way to stay up-to-date with information is to sign up for the email list and “like” the Mississippi Board of Animal Health page on Facebook.
Elchos recommended owners consider their pets when they formulate their family disaster plan.
“It’s a good idea to include the whole family in the planning process so that everyone will know what to do,” she said. “Also, if your pet has special dietary or medical needs, you will probably need to consult your veterinarian about the best disaster plan for your pet’s specific needs.”