For many, animals are a source of companionship and affection, and provide essential mental support. As such, the safety and well-being of household pets are important components of disaster planning, and animal rescue efforts should be incorporated as appropriate into preparedness strategies for individuals and readiness plans for organizations and communities. Lack of advance planning in this regard puts animals, their owners and at times first responders in danger.

Animal Welfare--WA-NG-Photo-1

Lisa Bishop, and her dog, Cody, from Northwest Disaster Search Dogs, working at the site of a landslide in Oso, Washington. (Photo by Spc. Matthew Sissel, 122nd PAOC, Washington National Guard).

  • It is well-documented that one of the major reasons why people do not evacuate their homes, even when faced with life-threatening, imminent danger, is because they cannot evacuate with their pets;
  • According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, households with pets are almost twice as likely not to evacuate as those without pets;
  • Following the 2005 hurricanes, Congress passed the Pet Evacuation Transportation Standards Act, which requires state and local governments to include household pets in emergency evacuation plans;
  • Key activities pertaining to animal welfare disaster response include:
    • Search and Rescue;
    • Evacuation and Transportation;
    • Planning and Resource Management;
    • Sheltering (providing both animal sheltering with their pet owners and also animal-only shelters);
    • Veterinary Issues (including animal decontamination, HazMat, and radiological issues).

How to Prepare a Pet for Disaster (from

Innovative Practices

Support initiatives that focus on animal welfare as related to disaster preparation and response, such as:

  • raising awareness of the importance of planning for the safety of pets in the event of a disaster;
  • educating individuals on how to develop their own emergency response plan for their pet;
  • identifying the highest at-risk population of pet owners, such as older adults and persons with disabilities;
  • mobilizing large-scale rescue operations in the aftermath of a disaster which could involve hundreds or sometimes thousands of animals.


Key Takeaways

  1. Emergency preparedness plans must incorporate evacuation, transportation and sheltering options for household pets, outdoor pets, and farm animals in order to ensure the health and safety of both pet owners and animals;
  2. Pet owners are less likely to evacuate their homes in the face of imminent danger because they refuse to leave their pets behind putting themselves, their pets and first-responders in danger;
  3. Cooperation between local nonprofits, social service agencies, and emergency management departments can mitigate loss of life and support effective advocacy, education, and training for pet owners.