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Sandy Responders Teach Utahns How to Save Animals During Disaster

Would you know what to do in case an earthquake hit Utah?  You may have a plan for your family, but what about your pets?  Superstorm Sandy first responders are teaching Utah agencies how to save animals as well as families in case of emergency.

Animal experts from all over Utah gathered at the 4th annual Animals in Disaster Workshop at the Provo Marriott.  The workshop educates different agencies about what to do with pets in case a natural disaster hit Utah.

“By looking at others people’s mistakes, we can hopefully avoid some of them or minimize them," said Julie Meron.

Meron is the President of the Utah Emergency Animal Response Coalition.  She said she wanted local animal experts to learn from the experiences of people who have dealt with rescuing animals during a major disaster.

“It gives them subject matter for them to take back and write their emergency plans,” Meron said.

To help Utahns understand how to respond in an emergency, the workshop brought in Dr. Dick Green, who is the disaster coordinator for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  Dr. Green got hands on experience as he coordinated the relief effort for animals after superstorm Sandy rattled the east coast last October.  

“All of the planning that we have done since Hurricane Katrina has paid off," Green said.  "All of the relationships that we have established, the willingness of the federal government to work with NGO’s like the ASPCA and all of the other response partners.  Now we can sit at the same when something like Sandy happens, I’m not looking for the person in charge, he’s already called me.  We never had that before.”

One of the state officials that worked together with Dr. Green after Sandy was Dr. David Chico, an animal emergency programs manager for the state of New York.  He says that New York pet owners who created a plan ahead of time saved hundreds of animal lives, and that Utahns can follow this same example.  

“Make sure you have a plan ahead of time and know where you are going to go if you have to evacuate your community," Chico said. "Talk to your friends and relatives so you have a place to go in case you need to leave. Identify pet friendly hotels or motels you may need to go to. I have to tell you that you should not rely on the government to come in and supply that sheltering for you, it’s a last resort type effort. It’s much better if you can be prepared to handle that on your own.”

Dr. Green said he agrees that planning is an important part of saving your pets life.  

“Be prepared to evacuate with your animal.  Include your animal in all of your evacuation plans....People think ‘I’ll have time to get home.  I’ll have time to find my cat’.  People just don’t take the time to include their animals in evacuation plans,” Green said.  

The workshop didn’t just focus on cats and dogs, it also taught about larger animals that are more likely to be found in Utah like cattle and horses.  Julie Meron said even having a plan for a horse can save your animals' life and precious time.  

“If you’ve got horses, do you have a trailer? You would be surprised to hear how many people in southern Utah have horses and don’t even own a trailer," Meron said. "I even had people who called us in one of our southern Utah fires last year.  She had a horse trailer but didn’t have a truck to pull it.  So she had to go through three people because she had two horses and said ‘I need this and I need that’, so you have to have a pre-planning event going on.”

With the new training, Dr. Green said he is optimistic about Utah’s response for animals when the next disaster hits.

“The fact that we’re here, the fact that Utah has taken the steps to recruit these people who have had these experiences proves to me that Utah is on the right track," Green said. "Utah cares about the animals so when the disaster comes, and they’ve shown this last summer when they had all of those fires that they had it in place.  To me that shows that if you’re an animal lover and you’re living in Utah, you’re in the right place.”