It’s Legal for US Evacuation Centers and Hotels to Ban Pets During a Disaster

dogs rescued from kennel during Hurricane Florence

Besides the tragic loss of human lives, some of the most heartbreaking Hurricane Florence stories were those of pets that had been left behind to fend for themselves in the rising floodwaters. In one video that went viral, volunteers rescued six dogs locked inside a backyard kennel just an hour or so before they all would have drowned.

After Hurricane Irma in Florida last year, pet owners who left their animals chained with no way to escape were rightfully charged with felony animal cruelty. Hopefully the owners of these pets in North Carolina will face similar charges.

While chaining or locking up dogs during a hurricane seems especially cruel, some pet owners may have had to abandon their pets because they were not allowed in evacuation centers and hotels. You might think that after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005 and an estimated 250,000 dogs and cats were displaced or died — and in some cases, their owners who refused to leave them behind also died — all shelters and hotels would now be required by law to allow pets.

It’s true that the federal Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, enacted one year after Katrina, does require state and local emergency preparedness operational plans to address the needs of the owners of companion and service animals following a major disaster or emergency. However, as I wrote for Care2 after Hurricane Harvey in Texas a year ago, you might be surprised that the PETS Act does not require evacuation centers or hotels to accept pets during a disaster.

So, what exactly does the PETS Act require? It requires state and local emergency preparedness operational plans to address the needs of the owners of companion and service animals following a major disaster or emergency. While these plans do include “emergency shelter facilities and materials that will accommodate people with pets and service animals,” all evacuation centers aren’t required to allow pets.

Fortunately, more and more evacuation centers are welcoming two-legged and four-legged evacuees. Many hotels are willing to waive their no-pets policies to accommodate people who need a place for all of their family members to stay.

But knowing there’s still a real possibility that your pet will be turned away from a shelter during a disaster is a very important reason to have an emergency evacuation plan prepared so you don’t get separated. Here are some tips from the ASPCA:

  • Find out what hotels in your area will accept pets. Check your county’s emergency management office, local animal shelter and your city’s social media for the locations of evacuation centers that allow pets.
  • Prepare an emergency kit that includes a pet carrier (with your pet’s name, your name and your cell phone number written on it), canned food, bowls, bottled water, first-aid items, garbage bags and blankets.
  • Be sure your pet is microchipped and your contact information is up to date.
  • Your pet’s ID tag should include their name, any urgent medical needs and your cell phone number.
  • Keep current photos of your pet with you.

Photo: Daily Mail/YouTube