During an emergency evacuation, individuals may find themselves scrambling to make sure loved ones and prized possessions are accounted for, but Scott County Emergency Management Director Scott Haas wants to make sure pets are not one of those things.
In an effort to put pet owners' minds at ease, Scott County is organizing a volunteer pet sheltering team that will respond to any sheltering emergency.
Under the federal PETS Act, local authorities are required to provide a shelter for domestic pets anytime an emergency evacuation shelter is established. The law went into effect one year after Hurricane Katrina, which saw many people put their lives at risk in order to look after their pets.
"There were a number of people who would not evacuate from their homes because there were no pet shelters open," Haas said of Hurricane Katrina. "People didn't want to leave their pets and they then chose to stay in their homes even through the dangerous situation of the hurricane coming."
The requirement was activated in Scott County last year, when significant flooding at Jordan's Sand Creek caused residents of Valley Green Park to evacuate their homes. At that time, Scott County relied on Minnesota Animal Disaster Coalition to operate its emergency pet shelters.
"However, we experienced a number of problems in staff availability for that organization when the flood event occurred and they simply weren't able to respond," Haas said. "So during the situation we were able to get enough volunteers to provide staffing 24-hours a day at our shelter location, which was located at the Regional Training Facility, for the pets that were evacuated."
After determining MADC didn't have the capacity to provide adequate sheltering services, the county began taking steps to establish a volunteer pet sheltering team. Much of the team's sheltering equipment has already been obtained and is stored at the Scott County Law Enforcement Center, Haas said, but the program is still looking for more volunteers.
"When there is some type of a disaster that requires us to shelter people, we'll have a team that can rapidly deploy to a location so we can make sure the pets are taken care of along with the people who are evacuated from their homes," he said. "... It's a unique opportunity we hope to never have to use, but we know based on history that we are going to open human shelters as the result of a disaster."
Haas said the program is seeking volunteers who are good with pets, 18 or older and are willing to commit to two training sessions a year. In the event of an emergency, volunteers would receive an activation notice via cellphone or other means.
"Some will be needed immediately to come in and do check-ins and register the animals and maintain that the health of the animals is well documented," Haas said.
The animals are then transported to the shelter, which will be staffed by at least two volunteers 24 hours a day. Those interested in becoming a volunteer can contact Cara Madsen at 952-496-8169 or CMadsen@co.scott.mn.us.
"It's an amazing opportunity for the right member of our community to give back to their community and make sure that people — at what may be the most traumatic night of their life — know that their pet is going to be well taken care of and safe."