Federal bill helps pets in natural disasters find safety - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Federal bill helps pets in natural disasters find safety

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La Crosse, WI (WXOW) -

You do not have to look far to see images of those devastated by Hurricane Harvey. Those images show not only people but pets trying to find their way to safety in the midst of catastrophic flooding. One federal bill is making sure pets in Texas go from hurricane to a safe, dry home.

The Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act started in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.

"People were reluctant to leave their homes thinking they wouldn't be able to take their pet with them," said Keith Butler, Director of Emergency Management for La Crosse County.

"More today then ever do people care about their animals and view them as their children or their brother and sister," said Samantha Luhmann, Community Outreach Coordinator for the Coulee Region Humane Society. "They're not just a pet. They're a part of the family."

The PETS Act requires states in need of Federal Emergency Management Assistance (FEMA) funding to include pets and service animals in their plans for evacuating residents in natural disasters.

"Ultimately, the owners and managers of the pets are responsible for their pets," Butler said. "But, under these dire, extreme conditions and circumstances, sometimes they just aren't able to care for their pets the way they want them cared for. So, we have to make arrangements for that."

La Crosse County has arrangements planned for natural disasters such as flash flooding.

"It's not as robust for us, but we at least have a mechanism in place to care for our pets to the extent that we can," Butler said.

A partnership with the Coulee Region Humane Society gives pet owners an option; however, there are limitations.

"They're generally operating at full or near capacity in their day-to-day operations," Butler said. "If you look at the number of pets that could be involved in an evacuation-type situation, it's just overwhelming."

Shelters often pose restrictions when it comes to bringing pets.

"We've had to isolate domestic animals from people particularly in shelter circumstances because of animal bites, allergies to certain pets," Butler said. "Those challenges happen there."

Despite the challenges, Butler wants to keep as many pets with their owners as possible.

"We've always preached what we call the three p's. Take your purse, pills, and pets," Butler said. "If you have to leave your home, make sure you've accounted for all three of those things. It's smart to do that ahead of time."

In those situations, a pet's life depends on it.

"Animals don't understand natural disasters," Luhmann said. "They need us to help them."

Butler said only domestic pets and service animals are included in emergency procedures for La Crosse County. The Department of Agriculture uses similar protocol to ensure the safety of farm animals.

Area rescue groups plan to take in shelter animals from Texas who were up for adoption before the storm. That will open up more room for pets to stay with their owners as they try to find a new normal.

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