By Peter Becker
Should a crisis ever occur requiring you to evacuate to a shelter, there's no need to leave your beloved pets at home.
When the American Red Cross had a mass care shelter in operation at East Stroudsburg University during the passage of Hurricane Sandy, not far away was a menagerie of furry- and feathery -friends. The Pa. State Animal Rescue Team (SART) was on duty, including their volunteers from Wayne and Pike counties.
"People won't leave their pets," said Angel Hanrahan, President of the Wayne/Pike Animal Response Team. That realization was clear in 2004 when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. SART had already been formed by the Department of Homeland Security a few months before Katrina hit.
SART is curently active in about a dozen states and is broken down into county units (CART) for response to disasters.
Although not activated in Wayne or Pike during Hurricane Sandy, the need was great enough in Monroe County for a large shelter and residents with animals at home had decisions to make.
Wayne/Pike Animal Rescue Team was at the shelter for 10 days, with at least two volunteers taking 12-hour shifts around the clock.
Joel Hersh, the statewide director, said that they had 23 animals at one time at the height, although the number fluctuated as power came back on at people's homes and they returned, or later power disruptions brought out more storm refugees seeking respite that the shelter offered.
Although the Red Cross does not permit pets in shelters that they operate, Hanrahan said that the SART teams set up as close as possible, whether in another area of the same building or in another building right nearby In this case the people were set up in a gymnasium and SART had the pets in their cages, in offices, a locker room, or wherever they could be, she said.
Pet owners were in constant touch with the SART team, to comfort their animals, walk the dogs or whatever was needed. SART volunteers walked the dogs as well and provided care.
Hanrahan said they they mostly had dogs. There were a few cats, birds and even frogs. She affirmed that since this was not a flooding event, more cats may have stayed at home with their food; dogs, however, need more attention, as pet owners are well aware.
Wayne/Pike's team was there to assist the Monroe County CART. Schuykill and Carbon county volunteers also helped.
She said this was their first long deployment. Last year Wayne/Pike Animal Rescue Team was dispatched to the Greene-Dreher fire station in Newfoundland when there was concern a dam would break at Promised Land and residents might have been evacuated. In that case the dam held, and the shelter was cancelled.
County Emergency Management Agencies make the initial request for SART to be deployed.
They have their own supply trailer stocked with approximately 130 pet cages and other supplies such as kitty litter. Pet food is donated, and Hanrahan said they had lots of help. Pet Central in Honesdale gave them a large supply of dog food. Wallenpaupack Veterinary Clinic, where Hanrahan works, offered food; a pet food distributor as well made their food available.
It is better when pet owners can bring their own food, she noted, but SART welcomes sources of donations. When the county team needs to purchase supplies, they file for reimbursement from the state. They had to buy a large amount of cleaning solutions.
A veterinary technician came in each day to check the pets, and a veterinarian remained on call. At least two dogs were taken to the veterinary clinic.
Hersh stated that the animal response teams are available in not only wide scale disasters, but also to assist when a home fire or other local emergency requires evacuation. CART volunteers may be called upon to provide temporary shelter for a household's pets. They work alongside Human Societies, the police and other agencies where needed, to shelter or transport pets or livestock.
There are around 1700 SART volunteers statewide; about 600 to 800 are active, Hersh said. New volunteers are welcome.
Hanrahan stated that pet owners were so happy and glad their animals were safe. "They kept thanking us," she said. All of their volunteers are animal lovers, so it turned out to be a gratifying experience, she said.
The Wayne/Pike Animal Rescue Team and the Red Cross will be participating in a meeting Nov. 26 at the Blooming Grove Fire Hall to review the storm response and use of shelters. Hanrahan said that the recent storm was a real learning experience, and one area they need to improve is on communicating to the public of what they can do about their pets when they must leave their home in an emergency.
Visit online at
www.pasart.us for more information on volunteering or SART's mission.