GEMA/HS Dispatch December 2017 Edition - Page 18

Animals loved, protected during disasters Dept. of Agriculture shelters hundreds of pets during Hurricane Irma By Brandy Mai A cat nestles in its crate at Fort Valley State University during Hurricane Irma. The cat was part of the companion animal sheltering program of the Georgia Department of Agriculture. THE FVSU State Animal Facility for Emergencies (SAFE) Center was opened in 2012 to support animal evacuation efforts and is co-located with the university veterinary program. Photo credit: Georgia Department of Agriculture 18 F rom protecting the home to providing companionship, pets are an integral part of many families. When faced with staying in the path of a hurricane or abandoning their animals, many people choose to leave themselves in harm’s way to protect their pet. Georgia Department of Agriculture’s companion animal sheltering program provides a solution by sheltering companion pets. This allows citizens to safely evacuate while also ensuring their pets are safe. After Hurricane Katrina, much work was done around the nation, including Georgia, to prepare for the care of pets during evacuations. These efforts included pet care training in counties across the state and creation of 15 pre-identified animal- friendly shelter locations. Those county governments agreed that during a governor’s disaster declaration, they would open their communities to support evacuees with pets. Prior to that, recommendations were to leave animals at home with three days of food and water. This affected the lives of many household pets, as well as the owners who risked their lives to save them. “We must be prepared to support these families, especially if it means people will risk their lives to go and retrieve their animals,” said Venessa Sims, Director of Emergency Management for GDA. Sims was a manager in the animal protection section following Hurricane Katrina and played an important role in successfully implementing local animal disaster planning efforts across the state. “This is a public safety issue,” she said. “Our community members are important — all of them.” For Sharon Broady, Director of Augusta Animal Services, this program is a great way to help evacuees during a stressful time. “With as much as the evacuees have to go through to leave their homes, we want their pets to be cared for and be the least of their worries,” she said. Augusta Animal Services has a partnership with Chatham County to receive their companion animals in the event of a disaster. During Hurricane Irma, they had 37 companion animals in their shelter. This number was comprised of animals from