When Hurricanes Strike, People Aren't the Only Victims

From Drugs.com - September 15, 2017

When Hurricanes Strike, People Are not the Only Victims

FRIDAY, Sept. 15, 2017 -- Judi Hudek and David Clevinger braved Hurricane Irma at a friend's home in Florida rather than a shelter for one reason -- their three cats.

They had planned to huddle in a nearby hurricane shelter, but when they arrived they found that the cats would be forced to stay in a small room with a group of loud, barking dogs.

"It was maybe the most difficult decision I have made in my entire life," said Clevenger, 47, who lives with Hudek, 48, in Bradenton, Fla. "I had the choice of either putting our three cats through that, or sheltering with our friends and hoping we could withstand the storm."

Their dilemma is all-too-common. Pet owners facing a natural disaster often have to compromise their own safety to make sure their furry friends are safe, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Unfortunately, a new ASPCA study reports that many states and counties do not have adequate emergency response plans for the care of animals during a natural disaster.

Fewer than a third of U.S. counties that regularly face natural disasters have an animal response team in place to help address the needs of pets, farm animals and their owners in an emergency, said lead author Vic Spain, an epidemiologist and consultant for the ASPCA.

A significant number of counties also do not have plans in place for emergency shelters where people can either stay with their animals or shelter their animals elsewhere in the facility, the study found.

These plans can be the difference between life and death in an emergency, Spain said. About 56 percent of homes have at least one pet, and most people do not want to leave their furry family members behind.

"From previous studies, we know that people with pets are more likely than people without pets to refuse to evacuate in an emergency situation -- putting their lives, as well as the lives of the people sent to rescue them, in danger," Spain said.

Hudek and Clevinger decided a couple days before Irma struck Florida this week that they would ride out the storm at home. They were worried they would run out of gas while evacuating the state, and be trapped in their car with their cats.

But then Irma changed tracks. Instead of coming up Florida's east coast, it instead veered to the west coast. "We realized the storm tracker had Irma coming through our neighborhood as a category 4 hurricane," Hudek said.

The couple made arrangements to stay at a shelter in a nearby elementary school. On Sunday morning, as the storm began its march up Florida, they packed their cats into carriers and headed to the shelter.

Once in the shelter, they found that all the pets people brought were being put in one small room. Their cats would not be able to get out of their carriers to eat, drink or use the litter box, and they would be subjected to loud barking from stressed-out dogs.

"We thought we'd be able to stay with our cats and sleep with our cats, and that's just not how it is," Hudek said.

So the couple instead decided to stay at a friend's house, even though they were worried it would not be as safe as the shelter. They found an interior bathroom, and they and their pets huddled there until the storm's fury subsided.

They and their pets made it safely through the hurricane, but others in earlier storms were not as lucky.


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