Our advocacy work gets more intangible and appears to be immeasurable at times.
What I am referring to is the release of information of the federal PETS Act 1 on social media by Fort Bend Pets Alive! on Sunday, August 27th 2017 afternoon. After different local authorities announced that household pets were not accepted in temporary shelters, NBC News wrote an article about a Houstonian mother who faced rejection of her pet after she walked to the largest temporary shelter (George R Brown Convention Center) with her young daughter. The expression on her face told a story of frustration, devastation, confusion and fatigue. Many people wish they could undo the mental picture in their minds. This article posted on the Facebook page of NBC News (with 9 million followers) received over 3,000 comments and was shared close to 8,000 times! Many other publications shared similar stories of the unpreparedness of local emergency management teams in our region. That was certainly not how any Houstonians would want the Greater Houston Metropolitan area to be known.
Photo credit: NBC News
Evacuees were exhausted, and devastated and they did not know what to do with their pets while facing such imminent danger. But we know that the majority of pet lovers would do the right thing if they knew how to, especially when it comes to the law. Therefore, our board took the lead to share our knowledge to correct the current situation. If not corrected, we know from Hurricane Katrina, it would cause more loss of lives of both humans and pets. Needless to say, it would also result in more distress created for both the emergency management system and the municipal animal sheltering system.
A post shared on our Facebook book page on Sunday afternoon (August 27th, 2017) provided accurate information of the federal law that was signed by President Bush 11 years ago, a year after the effects of the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina that took 1,700 human lives (44% of people opted to stay behind with their pets who were not allowed to evacuate) 2 and caused over 100,000 pets displaced and sacrificed in New Orleans 3.
Fort Bend Pets Alive! was able to empower pet loving citizens with information to ask questions to protect the rights they have as pet owners. Through social media and after just a few hours the information surfaced, we started to see a change of tone. Animal rescuers all over the region began to take issue with local authorities by quoting the language and legal obligation of the law. At the end of the same night (August 27th, 2017), Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management reversed their earlier decision and announced at the 10 pm press conference that household pets would be accepted at all temporary shelters starting on the following day. The situation completely changed for evacuating pet loving citizens in Fort Bend County. Loss of both human and pet lives were prevented and we believe we have successfully alleviated unnecessarily distress and loss of irreplaceable lives.
While we are known as “Texans who refuse to leave pets behind as they flee Harvey”, and as the federal law PETS Act is derived from such value Americans hold so dearly to their hearts, the law must be enforced and the public must be educated in order for it to take effect.
Our organization is pleased to have come to mobilize, articulate and represent people’s interests or concerns. In this case, we helped better decision-making process at different levels in our community.
~To be continued
1 In 2006, the federal Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act (42 U.S.C.A. § 5196a-d (2006)) was passed. PETS Since then, over 30 states have adopted either a law that deals with disaster planning and pets or have promulgated administrative plans on the subject. The state of Texas is one of those 30 states. Many state laws require that animals be sheltered and evacuated during an emergency. Such plans establish procedures to coordinate federal, state and local government agencies, volunteer organizations, animal interest groups, and veterinary medical personnel for rapid response to natural disasters affecting the health, safety and welfare of people and animals. While these plans differ from state to state, most address several key elements, which include the care of companion animals, the implementation of state animal response teams, the sheltering of animals, and identification of recovered animals.
2 Washington State University – Disaster Pet Sheltering