New animal supply trailer brings relief to pet owners in natural disasters

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 | 8:47 p.m. CDT; updated 11:19 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Boone County's new pet disaster relief trailer was unveiled on Wednesday at a ceremony at Stephens Lake Park. The Columbia-based Orthopedic Foundation for Animals funded the trailer's purchase.

COLUMBIA — A tornado has hit your house and you have to evacuate for the safety of yourself and your family. You have a pet dog you have had since he was a puppy, and no disaster shelter in the area can accommodate him. 

You have a choice to make: your safety or your dog.

This is not an uncommon experience for those in the center of devastating storms. After the Joplin tornado in 2011, more than a thousand pets were left homeless, according to an article by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Katherine Vogelweid, an associate clinical professor at MU's College of Veterinary Medicine, went to Joplin after the tornado as a volunteer. She said that of the close to 1,300 animals separated from their families that came through the shelter in the following month, around 100 to 150 needed veterinary care.

A month after the tornado, the Joplin Humane Society hosted large adoption events for the many pets that had not been reunited with their owners, according to the FEMA article.

Now, Boone County residents will no longer have to make the heart-wrenching choice between getting to safety and saving their pets.

On Wednesday evening, a disaster relief supply trailer was introduced at Stephens Lake Park by AKC Reunite and the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. The trailer is the first of its kind in Missouri, though AKC Reunite has a nationwide campaign, with trailers in other states.

The trailer contains supplies that can be set up quickly at shelters in the event of an emergency, said Eddie Dziuk, chief operating officer of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. The responsibility of the management and maintenance of the trailer falls on Boone County.

Martina Pounds, fire captain at the Boone County Fire District, said the trailer is supposed to stay in Boone County. To send it out of the county for disasters in other parts of Missouri, the emergency teams for the other county would have to go through the Statewide Mutual Aid system.

Natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 tornado in Joplin have called attention to the lack of disaster relief plans that include pets, Dziuk said. 

Dziuk said humane societies have not been able to handle the amount of animals displaced after disasters, while people have even been turned away from shelters because the shelter could not accommodate the pets they brought with them.

According to an article published in the American Veterinary Medical Association's journal, obstacles to moving pets, such as lack of human shelters that allow pets, may delay evacuation and cause people to abandon their pets or even cause people to refuse to evacuate themselves. Failure to evacuate could not only put these people at risk, but also jeopardize the safety of the general public and rescue workers, according to the article.

"(After Katrina,) shelters were full and people were put in harms way trying to save their pets," Pounds said.

"I know that if I had to evacuate and decide what to take with me, my dog would be going with me," Dziuk said.

The trailer's contents can provide for up to 65 animals, but only includes non-perishable items. These can be distributed to shelters to help house and care for animals. Ongoing efforts by volunteers will be required to make sure perishables such as food, water and medicine can be supplied throughout the course of the disaster, Dziuk said.

In the event where your animal gets loose and has to be picked up by a shelter, a microchip scanner is also included in the trailer in order to search for implanted identification. According to the Humane Society of the United States, microchips provide an extra layer of protection in case your pet loses its collar or tags, a very real concern during disasters.

Tessa Johnson, grant administrator at AKC Reunite, said that the program has dispatched nine trailers total throughout the U.S., with plans to dispatch 10 more in the near future.

"You hope that you will never need it," Dziuk said, "but the knowledge that there are plans in place is heartwarming and gives a sense of relief."

Supervising editor is Mary Ryan.

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