When hurricane Katrina and the subsequent flooding occurred in New Orleans in 2005, we heard tragic stories of people and their pets. People were shown trying to smuggle their pets into the evacuation buses, where they were refused admittance. Some left their animals behind, while others refused to leave without them, to their detriment. Plenty of animals perished with or without their families. I’m not trivializing the loss of human life, but I’d like to focus on the way thousands of animals were treated. Some experts estimate 250,000 animals died in the flood and subsequent havoc.
Things have changed.
I live in Colorado, and it seems like the whole state is burning. It’s hot, dry, and plenty of dead trees are lying around to fuel it, killed by beetles that thrive in the warmer temperatures Colorado has had in recent years. The rough terrain makes it difficult to fight the fires, particularly in valleys that prevent tanker airplanes from flying to drop their fire retardants (slurry) or water. People are being evacuated in advance of the fires. It sounds a bit like Katrina, but nowhere close. There are no buses; everyone’s on their own, for instance.
However for people’s animals EVERYTHING is different. There are evacuation centers for the people, and they can’t take their pets. But the animals are getting their own evacuation centers. They have centers for pets and centers for livestock or large animals, like horses, cattle, llamas, etc. It is a matter of where to go, not whether to go.
After Katrina, Congress passed the Pet Transportation Standards Act (“PETS”) as an amendment to the Staffords Act, the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5121 et seq.). The law requires state and local governments to consider animals in their emergency preparedness planning. I recall when this law was passed, and how happy I was that the awful conditions in the gulf coast area would never be repeated. I was also a bit surprised that it actually worked. But I’m seeing it in action here. I hope that I never need that kind of emergency planning, but if I do, I’m grateful that the fur and feather members of my family may get some of the care they deserve.
I’m happy to say that it looks like, for once, the legal system has come through for its people – even the non-human ones.The legal system is just a reflection of us, though. When we finally demonstrated that animals have value as our livestock, family member, and partners, the political system reflect that choice. So we, as a society changed, for the better I think, and the process followed us. Where else can we become leaders? Where else can we change the legal perception of our non-human family members?