State Senate Passes Bill to Include Animals in Disaster Planning

October 10, 2013

BOSTON, Oct. 10, 2013 – The MSPCA-Angell and the State of Massachusetts Animal Response Team (SMART) applauded lawmakers, especially Senators Karen Spilka, Senator Steven Brewer and Senate President Therese Murray, who today  advanced a bill that will ensure the safety of people with pets during natural disasters. After a devastating blow to the East coast from Superstorm Sandy in 2012, experts warned residents of the Commonwealth to expect another active hurricane season in 2013, prompting these organizations to push for the bill’s advancement. The bill will now head to the House of Representatives. 

Senate Bill 1172, “An Act Ensuring the Safety of People with Pets in Disasters,” would require Massachusetts cities and towns to have a plan in place to address the evacuation and sheltering needs of household pets and service animals before, during and after an emergency or natural disaster.  Moreover, the legislation would ensure cities and towns to educate the public on the resources available to them in the event of an emergency.  The bill was released with a favorable report in July from the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, chaired by Senator James Timilty and Representative Harold Naughton.

“This legislation addresses a critical public safety issue. In a disaster, no one should be forced to choose between their own safety and the safety of their pet. A standardized pet evacuation procedure would allow people to feel much more comfortable about evacuating in an emergency, without fear of what might happen to their pets,” said Senator Karen Spilka, who represents the 2nd Middlesex and Norfolk district and is the sponsor of the bill. 

Saving the Lives of People and Pets

Recent disasters have revealed that people often refuse to evacuate their homes without their pets even as catastrophic storms close in. Not only did countless companion animals die when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, a survey found that of those people who chose not to evacuate, 44 percent did so because they could not bring themselves to abandon their pets. 

“Legislation to ensure pets are protected during natural disasters is long past due,” said David Schwarz of the SMART.  “Pet owners have continued to show reluctance to separate from their animals when faced with emergencies, and this puts them, their animals and first responders at tremendous risk.  Larger scale action is required to give pet owners confidence that their animals will be safe.  Only then will more people heed the call to evacuate,” added Kara Holmquist, director of advocacy for the MSPCA-Angell. 

The MSPCA, SMART and other animal protection and public safety organizations, including the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association, local Disaster Animal Response Teams (DARTs) in in Central Mass. and Cape Cod, and national organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA, are hoping for passage this year.  “Getting this important legislation signed into law ahead of what will likely be another active storm season will undoubtedly make people and their pets much safer,” added Holmquist. The American Red Cross also supports the bill.

Information on how to prepare you and your pet in the event of a disaster can be found at www.mspca.org/disaster and www.smartma.org

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The MSPCA-Angell is a national and international leader in animal protection and veterinary medicine and provides direct hands-on care for thousands of animals each year. Founded in 1868, it is the second-oldest humane society in the United States. Services include animal protection and adoption, advocacy, humane education, law enforcement, and world-class veterinary care. The MSPCA-Angell is a private, non-profit organization. It does not receive any government funding nor is it funded or operated by any national humane organization. The MSPCA-Angell relies solely on the support and contributions of individuals who care about animals. Please visit www.mspca.org.

 

State of Massachusetts Animal Response Team (SMART) is dedicated to addressing the needs of household pets and other animals in disaster situations. The board of directors and advisory council of SMART includes members from the Animal Rescue League of Boston, the MSPCA, the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association and Massachusetts Veterinary Technician Association, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the American Red Cross, the Humane Society of the United States, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture, among many other notable organizations.  Services provided by SMART in the event of a disaster include shelter operations veterinary services, search and rescue and emergency response assessment for towns and cities. For more information, to donate, or volunteer, please go to: www.smartma.org.  FaceBook: www.facebook.com/SMART.MASS