They Walk With Us, We Carry Them: Disaster Planning for Pets

Paw prints in the sand in Fukushima. Photo courtesy of Animal Friends Niigata.

7:03pm | Fires, floods, weird weather, earthquakes, a tsunami and what may be soon considered the worst nuclear disaster in history… We briefly entertained the notion of building an ark but scotched the idea because you’re only allowed to save two of each nonhuman species.

Animal rescuer Isabella Gallaon-Aoki, founder of Animal Friends Niigata in Niigata, Japan, has been rescuing animals in the Fukushima danger zone caused by the earthquake and the resulting tsunami and nuclear disaster. People fleeing the scene let their pets go free so that they wouldn’t get hurt, Gallaon-Aoki said during an April 14 CNN interview with Anderson Cooper.

Unlike the United States, where an increasing number of states and communities are instituting FEMA-supported so-called “No Pet Left Behind” legislation, there is no government disaster plan for pets and no support for lost, abandoned and starving animals in Japan. And so Gallaon-Aoki and her group walked into a life-threatening condition and literally hunted down pets too frightened and hungry to remember that humans can be their friends.

The effects of the tsunami are still felt physically, mentally and emotionally in all parts of the world. Our hearts have gone out to the people living there who by all reports have handled their situation better than we might. Except, with outstanding exceptions, when it comes to the pets.

Last August, we wrote an article titled “Helping Pets and Humans Prepare for Emergencies”  in which we interviewed Surf City Animal Response Team  board members Julie Lapointe and Judy Durante, who educated us about protecting animals in worst-case-scenario disasters. In light of Japan’s disaster, we thought it would be a good time for an update.

At right, a cat rescued during a flood in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Photo courtesy of Alexis Raymond, UAN.

The overall approach to emergency planning — the NIMS plan — was issued by President George W. Bush in 2003 and developed by the secretary of Homeland Security. The training provides a shared framework for first responders nationwide. Here in Long Beach, it’s delivered by our fire and police department representatives. The Incident Command System  in the plan is critical to the success of emergency operations such as animal rescue, and all managerial and volunteer personnel involved in animal emergencies must be familiar with it.

Our own Animal Care Services is among the entities that have received the federally mandated FEMA training, which is the basis for establishing the appropriate response to any incident. Additionally, the bureau has three animal-related plans to ensure that the organization is able to recover from a disaster, implement an emergency evacuation and sheltering response and coordinate with outside agencies in the region. These plans work together to protect the people and animals of Long Beach and its contract cities. The first of these plans that will be implemented in the event of an emergency is called the Continuity of Operations Plan.

“The COOP Plan is designed to keep the essential functions of the operation going,” said ACS Manager John Keisler. “This is something that we’ve started to update annually over the past few years. This ensures that essential functions to support public safety and the humane treatment of animals are up and running as soon as possible.”

Shane was stranded in Fukushima when his owner (pictured) couldn’t reach him. Shane managed to swim to a familiar building and the pair were eventually reunited. Read their story in full on Animal Friends Niigita’s Facebook page.

The COOP applies to all ACS employees for any man-made, natural or technological emergencies and threats, Keisler said. It will be activated when such a threat exists, if the ACS bureau building or infrastructure is damage or if there is resulting extensive employee absenteeism because of widespread disaster. In this case, a subset of each bureau’s function, including animal control, is determined to include “critical activities or essential functions.” These include human capital, alternate facilities, special equipment, vital records and databases, and supplies and service.

Once these functions are established, ACS may initiate additional emergency plans depending on the nature and scale of the incident. These include the county's Animal Emergency Response Annex, National Incident Management System and the LSU Emergency Animal Shelter Plan. The Annex establishes how cities and county governments will assist one another in all areas; it also provides a coordinated response team for any disaster in its operational area that adversely affects animals and their humans, addressing needs of owners and their animals during a disaster and assisting local jurisdiction with rescue, transport, shelter, care and disease control of household pets, livestock and service animals. Coordination with local, state and federal authorities regarding disease control is also included.

The LSU manual is a detailed guide on the evacuation and sheltering of animals in case of displacement. It was created in Louisiana in response to news reports on the number of pets helplessly clinging to rooftops of submerged houses, effectively abandoned in the dangerous conditions that Hurricane Katrina created in 2005. Its guidelines are based on the experiences of the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine’s Emergency Animal Shelter at the LSU AgCenter’s Parker Coliseum, which was set up following the hurricane.

“These guidelines are not definitive, but rather they are intended as a starting point for others faced with the task of setting up a large emergency animal shelter,” Keisler said. “It is hoped that by sharing this information, time and lives will be saved.”

A UAN representative rescues a cat following a tornado in Greensburg, Kan. Photo courtesy of Alexis Raymond, UAN.

ACS’s page for pet-owner emergency tips and links  highlights what we consider a mandate: Microchip your pet and attach an I.D. tag with your cell phone number and that of a friend. ACS makes every effort to reunite pets with their humans. Making it your own effort to permanently I.D. your cat or dog will help enormously in both “normal” and disaster situations.

Our friends at PETA sent us the bare-naked facts about disaster preparedness. Here are some excerpts:

  • In the event of an evacuation, never leave your animals behind to fend for themselves.
  • During a flood, never leave your animals outdoors, tied up or confined in any way, as they will be trapped and unable to flee rising waters.
  • Know your destination ahead of time. Although human shelters often refuse animals, motels in the area will probably accept dogs, cats and other small animals. Do not plan to leave animals unsupervised in a car; they can suffer from heatstroke once ambient temperatures rise above 70 degrees, even if water is provided and the windows are slightly open.
  • Place small animals in secure carriers and keep dogs leashed. Frightening sounds and unfamiliar surroundings may make them bolt. Take water and food bowls, your animal's favorite toy or blanket, a towel and enough food for at least a week.Have your animals microchipped and put secure, legible ID tags on them.
  • Watch for other animals in need, including strays and animals who are left behind by neighbors. If you see an animal in distress and are unable to help, note the animal's condition and location and call authorities for help as soon as possible.

Carrying a photo with you and putting one in your emergency kit will help prove that the critter is yours when you go to retrieve him or her. E-mail or send one to a friend as well. Remember to include food that your pet habitually eats, meds, toys, lots of water and, whenever possible, you.

There are a number of websites where contributions can be made to help cover the cost of the rescue and care of Japan’s displaced pets. They include Gallaon-Aoki’s organization’s Facebook page , PETA , and United Animal Nations. UAN also has a great disaster tip list for cats, dogs, horses, birds, reptiles and amphibians.

Special thanks to John Keisler for assistance with this article.

A kitty rescued by UAN during a Butte County, Calif., fire. Photo courtesy of Alexis Raymond, UAN.

“During your times of trial and suffering when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

“Footprints in the Sand,”Mary Stevenson, 1939 (Carolyn Carty version, 1963)

Virtually Pets


Moses is a sweet senior found on the street last week by a local animal rescuer. He is 8–10 years old and weighs about 11 pounds. His previous owners seem to have badly neglected him. He was matted and dirty and in need of some TLC. Moses has skin allergies from either a food reaction or fleas, which the rescuer is treating. He is neutered and has been vaccinated. He’s a quiet little guy in need of a long-term foster home until his hair grows back and his skin condition heals. E-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you can help.

Pet Projects

ACS: Stay Away From Beached Sea Lions A

More than a half-dozen sea lions have beached themselves in the cities of Long Beach and Seal Beach. Some of these animals have shown signs of the naturally occurring domoic acid poisoning recently highlighted by the local media. ACS continues to work with the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro to monitor and transport sick animals when authorized. If you see any stranded or possibly ill sea lions, don’t try to assist them; they bite, and it’s a federal offense to disturb them. Watch them for a while, and if it’s apparent that they’re not just sunning themselves, call ACS at 562-570-PETS or the city of Long Beach Lifeguards at 562-570-1360. Visit the Marine Mammal Care Center website by clicking here for more information.

FOLBA Theater Benefit for the Animals, Long Beach Playhouse, May 19, 6:30 p.m.

No shrews will be tamed, but lots of Long Beach animals will benefit from Friends of Long Beach Animals’ spring Benefit for the Animals, featuring William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Join pianist Ralph Brunson at his “piano bar” and enjoy delicious finger foods as you listen. There will be a silent auction and a raffle. The reception begins at 6:30 p.m., with the play scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Cost is $25. Visit or call 562-988-7647 to find a ticket vendor near you.

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