We were the main computerized control center for all lost and found animals after hurricane Andrew. Having been so deeply involved in a disaster the size of Andrew, we now have painful knowledge of how many things can go wrong and how many pets may die or never be seen again. Our experience shows that there are three major areas of concern for animal safety that all pet owners must be aware of and that all agencies must endorse.
Pre-storm preparations for citizens in evacuation zones
Owners should pre-arrange a pet foster home and take the pet there as soon as a “watch” is issued, then return home and wait for the evacuation order (if any)
Or, take pets to reserved space at a kennel or clinic when the “watch” is issued
Or, prearrange safe space other than a shelter and leave with their pets when the “warning” is issued
Leaving pets in the home to ride out the storm alone should not ever be considered. Leaving them outside is absolutely criminal. In cases where there is no alternative but to leave the pet, the owner should call the Alliance for full instructions. Most advice given freely by the media is incorrect. None of these people had to go into the area and pick up dead or fatally injured pets, as our volunteers did.
Physical rescue after the storm
All stray or rescued animals picked up by animal control, rescue groups, or citizens MUST be recorded in a central computer system. Procedures as usual by animal control or humane societies does not work. There is no other way that the pet owner has a decent chance of finding the pet. Holding space for animals will be stressed to the limit after a storm. Dogs and cats have to be moved out to make room for the hundreds coming in each day. If every agency and rescue group tries to run their own lost and found system, it means that the pet owner will have to call many shelters, and since phones will be out and cellular lines plugged, it’s an impossible task. Three months after Andrew, people were still looking for their pets. We hated to tell them that thousands of dogs and cats were flown to rescue groups up North because we couldn’t find the owner and needed the space.
The greatest problem for pet owners after Andrew was in knowing where to call and then getting through to them. A communications control center is crucial.
Manually listing thousands of founds then trying to match them up with thousands of lost reports is impossible. A computerized system is an absolute necessity.
When hurricane “Bertha” threatened, we immediately activated 10 of our volunteer operators, alerted MCI for a possible rerouting of our 800 line (in case our lines went down), faxed all South Florida media “instructions for pet owners”, and fired up our emergency power system. We were prepared to take as many as 99 calls simultaneously and had 3 computer operators standing by.
For the sake of the animals and the people that love them, we urge all animal rescue groups, county or city shelters, and humane societies to abandon regular lost and found procedures after a disaster, and swing all calls to our 800 line.