Thursday, April 20, 2006

Louisiana's Proposed Pet Evacuation Bill - Senate Bill 607 - Debated

This would be landmark legislation that is totally necessary after the devastation left by the response to animals left behind after Hurricane Katrina. Look to the next posting to see how you can help it make it come a reality.


Pet-evacuation bill debated

Capitol News Bureau
Published: Apr 18, 2006

Pet lovers rallied at the State Capitol on Monday to promote a bill that could make Louisiana the first state in the nation with a hurricane evacuation law for cats, dogs and other animals.

Sen. Clo Fontenot, R-Livingston and chief sponsor of the plan, said the bill’s $6 million price tag is the key hurdle.

“The biggest issue is going to be a question of funding,” Fontenot said. The proposal, Senate Bill 607, is scheduled to get its first hearing at 1 p.m. today in the Senate Judiciary B Committee.

The plan is a response to horror stories involving pets and their owners after Hurricane Katrina. Animal rights officials said thousands of cats and dogs died needlessly after the storm. The bill has a human angle, backers said, because the hurricane triggered numerous cases of pet owners waving away rescuers rather than leave them behind in flooded homes and apartments.

“If I had been forced to evacuate they would have had to shoot me,” said Maria Alvarez of Metairie, who attended the gathering.

Alvarez had seven dogs at the time.

“I was prepared to die with them,” she said. “They are family.”

Fontenot’s bill would require the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness to:

- Craft an emergency evacuation and shelter plan for household pets and service animals with input from experts in animal sheltering, veterinary medicine and public health.

- Set up or identify temporary pet shelters next to those for humans.

- Develop an identification system for household pets, including a tracking system, so that owners separated during evacuations can find them.

The bill would require that those with disabilities who use service animals, such as seeing eye dogs, to be evacuated and housed with the animals. Household pets in cages or carriers could ride on public transportation before a storm if it does not endanger human life.

A few dozen backers of the bill attended, many with pets in tow. Several wore black t-shirts that spelled out their loyalty to their cats and dogs: “If I Leave They Leave.”

Before Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29, evacuees were told they could not bring their pets on buses, said Laura Maloney, executive director of the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“We said that has to change,” Maloney said.

Fontenot agreed.

“We have to make sure that never happens again in Louisiana,” he said.

Donna Sarvois of Kenner said she hauled four dogs and two cats to Sugar Land, Texas, where they were boarded for three weeks after the storm.

“The pets are part of the family,” said Sarvois, who attended the rally. “A lot of people don’t see that.”

Julia Turner of Baton Rouge, who owns three dogs, said Fontenot’s measure would give pets an added layer of protection.

“If there is a law in place they will take it more seriously,” Turner said of emergency workers.

About 50,000 household pets were left behind in New Orleans when Katrina struck, the president of the Humane Society of the United States said a few weeks after the storm. Officials of the Louisiana SPCA estimate that about 16,000 animals were rescued by volunteers.

Costs are the chief worry for officials who would handle the animal evacuation duties, said Mark Smith, spokesman for the state office of emergency preparedness.

“That’s a major concern,” he said. Federal rules do not allow aid for such evacuations, Smith said.

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