Quite often animals are the last things people think about when they must evacuate for a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or tornado, leaving them completely unprepared and struggling to find housing, food, or a shelter that will take them and their pet. I still struggle with the news story I heard regarding a rescue worker telling a couple that they could not bring their two dogs into a boat after Katrina in New Orleans. The couple said that they would not leave their dogs so they would just wait for another boat. The rescue worker told them there was not going to be another boat, shot the dogs, and then told them that they had nothing else to wait for and to just get in the boat. Can you imagine if those were your pets? I would be absolutely heartbroken.
I have always grown up with animals and have been fortunate to never have to evacuate for an emergency where I could not take them with me or care for them in an hour of need. One of my best friends volunteers with the Big Bend Disaster Animal Response Team and they work tirelessly to train and prepare in the event of a hurricane, tornado, or any other type of disaster in our area or surrounding areas for the care of our pets. DART teams are departments of the Humane Society of the United States. “The mission of the Disaster Animal Response Team (DART) is to promote the safety and well-being of all animals who are or may be adversely affected during a disaster and to respond to the needs of those who provide emergency and supportive care to animals during all phases of a disaster” (Florida DART). Each state has a main DART group with chapters throughout the state which can be found here. However, the funding is scarce and the materials they need are quite often expensive. I know that members of DART teams were on the ground during the tornados in Joplin and hurricane Katrina (unfortunately they didn’t get to the couple mentioned above). They run shelters for people and their pets, provide basic vet exams to ensure the animals’ health after a disaster, transport and care for abandoned or lost animals, and many other services for our beloved animals.
Even more important than money is your time. If you can spend a few hours helping the team with a fundraiser, spending a day working with them on a project, or just giving a few hours of time a week, a month, or even a year, to help prepare your community and their pets for a potential disaster. You can donate directly to the DART team of your choice- chapter, state level, or national. The best way to donate time or money is to contact the team directly. Many can be found on Facebook through the search engire but the official websites can be found through the Humane Society state webpages found here or Googling (State) Disaster Animal Response Team.