Colorado State University, Pet Aid Colorado to Help Colorado Communities Develop Emergency Plans for Pets

Colorado State University Extension agents across Colorado – from Gunnison County to Larimer County – are helping their communities prepare or improve emergency plans for pets and service animals thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Dr. Frank Garry and Dr. Ragan Adams of CSU’s internationally recognized College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences are principal investigators on the grant and are working with Pet Aid Colorado, formerly the Colorado Veterinary Medical Foundation, to train 14 Extension agents representing nearly half of Colorado’s counties.

Only 20 percent of pets were reunited with their owners after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, according to the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Of those people who chose to ride out the storm, a whopping 44 percent reported they did it because they could not evacuate with their animals.

The federal Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, passed after Katrina in 2006, ensures that local and state emergency preparedness plans address the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals following a major disaster or emergency.

"At the present time, Florida has the most comprehensive and robust local and state emergency plan and response capability for pets and service animals of any state in the nation and Louisiana also has a very detailed and effective plan, but their challenges are very different from those in the Midwest and western regions of the country,” said Debrah Schnackenberg, director of Pet Aid Colorado Disaster Services and former senior vice president of the American Humane Association’s National Emergency Services Program. “Colorado is taking the lead in this region to develop plans for an area with different demographics, challenges and hazards."

Extension agents will help their communities develop efficient plans to accommodate pets and service animals during emergencies or natural disasters such as wildfires. A prepared community is a resilient community that can bounce back from unexpected tragedies and natural disasters. The $100,000 grant for the program was provided by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and required an equal matching contribution from CSU Extension.

“It’s hard for emergency managers to know what to do with pets,” Garry said. “And because all emergencies are local, emergency response plans need to be built from the local level. One of the great things about Extension agents in their counties is that they know so many people and they’re wonderful facilitators. They will be instrumental in facilitating the ability of the community to develop an emergency system.”

Two professors in CSU’s School of Social Work – Victoria Buchan and Louise Quijano – will also assist with the grant by providing program evaluation support that could include examining best practices and roadblocks and comparing rural and urban areas.

“We can compare how things go in each county, how things develop and compare counties, demographics and socioeconomic situations,” Adams said. “Eventually, the report will be published on a national website, the Extension Disaster Education Network, so the whole country can benefit.”

Participating counties are diverse, geographically and socioeconomically. They include counties along the Front Range, on the Western Slope and in the San Luis Valley, southeast part of the state and eastern plains.