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Animals need disaster shelter, too

TOWNSEND — The picture flashed on the screen is familiar. A man crouched on a second-story porch roof, holding his dog tightly as floodwaters lap against their feet.

In the aftermath of Katrina, a devastating hurricane that hit the New Orleans area in 2005, reports of people refusing to leave their pets were common. The animals left behind died or wandered through the city. Some were rescued and brought north. Others were reunited with their owners.

Rescue agencies began to realize how important it is to include animals in the plan. “The reason that pets are included, it’s because of the people at the other end of the leash,” said veterinarian David Schwarz, board president of the State of Massachusetts Animal Rescue League.

SMART is a nonprofit organization that works with local emergency managers and animal control officers to plan emergency animal shelters. He met with officials and volunteers in Townsend June 18.

New state legislation requires municipalities to include animals in disaster planning. The best choice is to house the animals near the humans, perhaps in another part of the same building, he said. Stress on both owners and animals is less if they can see each other.

Emergency workers will also have one less thing to worry about if they can leave their animals safely at a shelter while they are on duty.

Townsend is in good shape. Shirley Coit, Townsend Emergency Management Agency director, and Mary Letourneau, Townsend Animal Control Officer, have already met with school personnel to plan a shelter for pets and people.

During the 2008 ice storm, animals were housed at Hawthorne Brook Middle School in one room and people in another. The new guidelines and advance planning will help eliminate some of the problems that happened at the school.

For every 100 cots, 40 crates should be available. The town is equipped to house 120 people and has 60 animal crates for emergencies. Heavy plastic will protect the floors and walls of a shelter from damage.

A horse farm with generators is willing to help with sheltering large animals, Letourneau said. The veterinarian office beside her home can accommodate small animals and is willing to provide limited ingredient food to minimize digestive upsets when animals are not fed their regular diet.

Schwarz urged people to take their pets even if they are evacuated, even if told it is for only an hour or two. “If you go, they go. Don’t ever leave them behind,” he said.

Pet owners need to take responsibility for their pets. There are some simple things to do to prepare for an emergency.

Be sure you can get your pet into a carrier. Some cats never leave home and are unused to being placed in carriers. Letourneau suggested leaving the carrier out to increase familiarity and even tossing treats in to make the animal comfortable with entering it.

Set up a buddy system with a neighbor. If a family is not home, their pets can be monitored.

Put together a pet emergency kit. Include:

* a three-day food supply

* water

* medicine and health records

* first-aid kit

* collar with identification, rabies tag and leash

* immunization records

* crate or carrier

* sanitation — a litter box and/or cleaner

* a picture of you and your pet together

* toys and treats

For information, visit or contact Coit through the town clerk’s office.