It is common to travel without your pets. But for those of us who live with hurricanes, evacuation without pets is just too much to ask. Many furnished rental and corporate rental owners and managers relax their pet rules during times of disaster. Do not be afraid to ask if your beloved pet can join you when you evacuate.
Hurricane Katrina was the largest natural disaster in U.S. history, claiming the lives of more than 1,800 victims and causing well over $100 billion in damage along the Gulf Coast. The 2005 storm breached every levee in New Orleans, flooding almost the entire city as well as the neighboring parishes. Yet a surprising number of people stayed behind and rode out the storm. One of the most common reasons people gave for staying behind was to care for their pets.
If at all possible, people who share their homes with dogs should never leave them behind in an evacuation. The truth is that you don’t know when you’ll be able to return to your home, and when, or even if, humane agencies will be allowed to rescue your pets-presuming that they survive the initial emergency. Simply put, if you have the means to evacuate, your dogs are safest with you, even if it means you have to camp out. Traveling with your dog in times of crisis may slow your progress, and you may have to make compromises to keep your pet with you.
Fortunately, there are usually people among the rescuers who understand that dogs are not just property to be abandoned like extra baggage. They understand that dogs fulfill an important psychological function and may be a survivor’s only link to affection and the life they used to live.
A short while before Katrina hit, FEMA had gone through a disaster preparedness exercise which involved a mythical hurricane, “Pam,” hitting the U.S. Gulf coast. Extensive computer simulations and hands-on practice by search and rescue, police, military and civil authorities, engineers, and medical experts were involved. When Ivor Van Heerden, a hurricane researcher from Louisiana State University who helped direct the simulation exercise, was asked about preparations to save pets, he answered, “They were not part of our plans because they are not considered to be important.”
The actual disaster that followed would prove such planners to be wrong. Many people who live with animals consider them important enough to risk their own personal safety to keep their pets from harm. The rescue planners had forgotten that saving the human body is not enough. People need affection, comfort, family (or something that serves as family), as well as a feeling of being needed. These emotional needs often must be met before people can motivate themselves to try to survive physically. For many people, such requirements are filled by the companionship of an animal. Pets are part of their family, and such people would no sooner think of abandoning them than abandoning a child. One exhausted National Guard officer explained to General Russel Honore, who was coordinating the rescue efforts, “We estimate that 30 to 40 percent of the people who refuse to leave the affected areas are staying because they want to take care of their pets.”
Residents with pets are an important sector of the renting population, but making your property available to animals carries its own set of risks.
Read on for the pros and cons of renting to residents with pets.
Allowing pets increases your resident pool
Most pet owners are responsible, committed “parents” of their furry friends and are willing to pay extra to find good housing that will accept their dog or cat. Making your property pet-friendly means making it generally more resident-friendly.
Pet damage can be assessed and addressed
Of course, every property owner fears that damage from a pet will exceed what they might be able to recoup from the pet deposit, creating a losing proposition.
Pets left alone too often are certainly likely to scratched doors, floors and walls, soiled carpets, and broken screens. Pet owners who don’t properly manage barking and other annoying pet behaviors can cause headaches for you in the form of infuriated neighbors. Another concern is the danger that an aggressive pet might cause to residents, in addition to creating insurance issues.
Though all these negative outcomes of pet tenancy can happen, research shows that most damage from pet residents is not appreciably more than from those without pets — and damage from children often rivals that of pets! So before you decide to bar the door to pet owners, consider whether arming yourself with good questions and strong policies might be enough protection to take the risk.
Jerry Sneed has more than enough to worry about as the 2007 hurricane season kicks into high gear. There are buses that have to be lined up for people who don’t have their own transportation out of New Orleans if an evacuation is ordered. Officials are still negotiating with Amtrak for trains to evacuate the disabled and those too sick to be crowded onto buses. And thousands of families are still living in FEMA trailers hardly built to withstand a strong wind, much less another Katrina.
No wonder Sneed, director of the New Orleans Office of Emergency Preparedness, shoots you an exasperated look when asked about what the disaster plans are for animals — a look that says the pet issue has become something of a pet peeve.
Don’t get him wrong: Sneed likes animals as much as the next guy. But making provisions for the evacuation of pets, now mandated under state and federal law, adds one more layer of complexity to the already difficult task of getting people out of harm’s way if a hurricane threatens Southeast Louisiana this year.
The chances of that happening are higher than normal. The National Hurricane Center has forecast a busy Atlantic tropical storm season, with 13 to 17 named storms. Three to five of those could reach Category 3 — Katrina was a Category 3 storm when it struck the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005 — or higher, and under the city’s new policy a storm that size headed for New Orleans would trigger a mandatory evacuation order.
Pets played a role in some of Katrina’s countless horror stories, and city officials are wrestling with how to avoid a repeat. During that dark time, cats were left for what evacuating owners thought would be a two- or three-day exile that turned into weeks or months; dogs chained in backyards were left to drown; and pets were separated from their owners at shelters, some never to be reunited.
But the concerns of animal rights advocates notwithstanding, the biggest issue to emergency authorities are the people who stayed in New Orleans for Katrina because they refused to leave their pets behind. “To a lot of people, these animals are their children,” Sneed says. A survey conducted after Katrina found that 44% of those who chose to ride out the storm did it because they could not evacuate with their animals. Should another evacuation be called, he says, “we have to make it more practical for people to leave than to stay. If one of the reasons people stayed was because they had pets, then we have to be able to assure them this time that their pets will be okay.”