When natural disasters strike, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), American Red Cross, and a host of other organizations swoop in and do what is needed to move people to safe places where they can rest, receive care, eat and safely sleep. However, their pets do not always fare so well. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) share tips on keeping pets safe during natural disasters, they often end up in danger.
The Humane Society of West Michigan has done its part to help those pets in need — sending staff and transportation to other states to rescue displaced cats, dogs and other animals kept as pets. Now, as part of a new collaboration with BISSELL Pet Foundation, Code 3 Associates, Michigan Humane Society (in the Detroit area) and Harbor Humane Society (Holland area), the nonprofit is joining the BISSELL Pet Foundation National Shelter Alliance network, providing service and support for animal shelters across the nation faced with urgent needs.
In order to help animals during natural disasters, the Alliance will equip shelters across the nation with crisis management and stabilization tools, connections with other shelters that can take in excess animals and climate-controlled transportation to get them there.
“The Alliance provides hands-on guidance for us so we can be sent in like the Red Cross is for humans,” says Amy Stockero, director of development and marketing for the Humane Society of West Michigan. “If there is something like a Hurricane Katrina again, we will identify staff to assist on-site and provide transport.”
Another focus of the three Michigan shelters involved in the Alliance will be to support other shelters in the state that are overwhelmed by hoarding incidents, which can involve hundreds of animals being rescued from one location. Stockero has seen hoarding incidents that involved 1,200 animals. She also recalls the Humane Society of West Michigan helping a shelter in the Upper Peninsula that had taken in hundreds of rabbits.“If a shelter has an average of 200 animals in custody, it is not feasible for them to care for 1,200. That care is only made possible by those networks among shelters,” she says. “Also, with large scale hoarding, the animals are usually not socialized and have behavior issues. We took in more than 30 cats [in one hoarding incident]. By having a strong foster network trained to anticipate and understand what these cats’ behaviors were going to look like, they were coming out of their shells in a week to two.”
In most natural disaster cases, animals are not transported away from their home locations until a ten-day “stray hold” has passed, giving their owners a chance to reclaim them. If the circumstances require the Humane Society of West Michigan to transport animals back to its shelter sooner, staff continues to seek the pets’ owners via social media and other means during that ten-day period. After that, staff do their best to find a new forever home for the pets under their care.
“Make sure to look at shelters if you are adding a pet to your family. It might take a little more patience but check your shelters first. You are going to be so amazed by the animals here and their capacity to love,” Stockero says. “Our animals have become service animals, emotional support animals, office animals, and trained to do all kinds of things. They are truly astounding. Give shelter animals that chance.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy West Michigan Humane Society