Volunteers Come Together To Help Pets In Case Disaster Strikes

May 24, 2018

In an earthquake or wildfire or other disaster, you typically can’t bring your animals with you into a shelter. This is a reason why some people choose not to evacuate when they ought to.

Some Northwest localities have volunteer “Animals in Disaster” teams to handle pet rescue, preparedness and emergency sheltering tasks. Cannon Beach is the latest to establish one.

Bob Kroll retired from a veterinary practice in the Portland suburbs and is now making his beach house into his main house. He and his wife brought along two frisky dogs, Betty and Augie. Dr. Kroll recognizes the beauty of Cannon Beach comes with a few risks such as earthquakes, tsunami, windstorms and flooding.

"It's likely if we had a major disaster that the highway would be inundated, or under mud, or washed out somehow, bridges (lost),” Kroll said. “So we really need to be ready to take care of ourselves."

Cannon Beach looks better prepared than most coastal towns, at least when it comes to its two-legged residents. But what about the estimated 1,700-2,000 dogs, cats and other assorted pets?

That’s where Kroll comes in. The town's police chief and emergency management consultant recruited him to organize an all-volunteer animal disaster preparedness and response team.

"There will need to be some medical care and understanding of disease prevention and things like that, but a lot of it is just sheltering and taking care of the animals,” Kroll said.

That and having people trained in animal behavior and handling to round up abandoned or escaped pets—and if possible reuite them with their humans.

Pets and their owners will need to be self-reliant if Cannon Beach, like other coastal communities, is cut off from outside help by a big earthquake or other disaster.
Credit Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Kroll is modeling the brand new Cannon Beach group on another animals-in-disaster response team, the one in Lane County, Oregon. Kroll also plans to piggyback on the emergency supply caches that the city of Cannon Beach and individual families have previously established. Storage sheds filled with blankets, food and water are located in several places above the tsunami flood line.

"We will most certainly be utilizing some of the shelf space in here to store the animal sheltering supplies and food and water,” Kroll said after unlocking the door to survey one of the spaces this week.

Kroll said many of the first aid supplies for humans in the cache can also be used on pets. Additional items on his list to acquire are collapsible cages of different sizes to use for a temporary emergency pet shelter, lots of leashes and a pet ID microchip reader.

Kroll said cat litter is another often-overlooked item to stock.

"There are multiple reasons why it could be in your emergency kit because it is really useful for chemical spills, you know, unrelated to pets," Kroll said. "It is very absorbent. That's a good thing to have around."

Both Oregon and Washington have state-level animal emergency groups. In addition, there are several regional nonprofits. Michaela Eaves of Seattle volunteers with the 11-year-old Washington State Animal Response Team (WASART).

"We've had some memorable episodes, especially in terms of the wildfires in eastern Washington,” she said in an interview. “We’ve been lucky enough to have enough members to help us respond for a couple of weeks at a time while the fires kept going and people needed to evacuate their homes."

Eaves said her group and others emerged from the reckoning after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"There are many cases where people will not leave their animals behind,” she said. “That is certainly something that happened during Katrina and it cost some people their lives. We want to make sure that that is not something that will stop someone from being able to evacuate."

Many hotels and evacuation shelters, notably including Red Cross shelters, do not accept animal guests.

Eaves said WASART was on standby this month to provide emergency animal sheltering because of flooding in north central Washington. But neighbors helping neighbors took care of that situation.

Eaves said WASART has about 50 credentialed members who can deploy to emergencies. 

The Lane County Animals in Disaster Response Team has about 20 long-term volunteers. Co-founder Dr. Kathy Snell said the Eugene-based group dates to 2009 and most recently was on standby to provide small animal emergency sheltering for a wildfire in the upper McKenzie River drainage in 2017 and after ice storms in 2016.

A pooped puppy housed in the emergency pet shelter that Washington State Animal Response Team set up at Brewster Elementary School during the 2015 wildfires.
Credit WASART

"We always are looking for volunteers," Eaves said, which also holds for the other response teams public radio contacted. "You do not have to have prior animal experience. You do not have to be an animal professional."

Training is a big part of animals in disaster team activities.

Other volunteer-driven nonprofits in this sector include Spokane-based Humane Evacuation Animal Rescue Team (HEART) and Redmond, Oregon-based Pet Evacuation Team.

Technical animal rescue—think a dog over a cliff or a horse hopelessly stuck in mud—is part of the portfolio of some of the volunteer animal response teams, but not all.

Some of them, such as WASART and HEART, also respond to significant neglect cases when large numbers of seized animals need to be cared for all of a sudden.

Many counties have listed their local humane society as their response teams, said Washington State Department of Agriculture spokesman Hector Castro, although those societies may not necessarily have large-scale capabilities.

The state agency oversees a volunteer Reserve Veterinary Corps, which can deploy to provide veterinary first aid, animal handling or sheltering in the event of a major disaster. Oregon has an analogous corps called the Veterinary Emergency Response Team.

District veterinarian and emergency management liaison Dr. Ryan Scholz of the Oregon Department of Agriculture said the state response team was put on standby for two weeks last summer in case the Chetco Bar wildfire in southwest Oregon overwhelmed local resources, but the team ended up staying home.

Scholz said he is working with county partners "to have it be second nature" to set up a temporary animal shelter side by side with the human shelter when an evacuation happens.

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Disaster preparedness for pets resources:

ASPCA: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/general-pet-care/disaster-preparedness

FEMA: https://www.ready.gov/animals

If you live or spend time in Cannon Beach and want more info about volunteering with that city's new Disaster Animal Response Team:

What: Disaster Animal Response Team organizing meeting
When: 6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m., Thursday, May 24
Where: Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce building at Spruce & 2nd
For more info: Cannon Beach emergency services: 503-436-2811 or email: kroll@ci.cannon-beach.or.us