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McCallum: Pets And High Water

It’s happened again. This week massive ice jams and flooding set in motion by warm weather, rain and rising waters put people and property in danger. For the second time in just five weeks, residents of Swanton and Highgate were advised to evacuate their homes - which were threatened by the rising waters of the Missisquoi River. They were welcomed into a temporary shelter staffed by Red Cross volunteers at Missisquoi Valley Union High School, as they left behind homes filled with their life’s possessions, vehicles, barns and domestic animals.

Urgent warnings followed, from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, that rising floodwaters could also endanger any animals left behind. Included was an advisory reminding those needing to evacuate to never leave pets tied up, crated, caged in hutches or confined in any way that would make it impossible to escape rising floodwaters.

This might seem common sense to most pet lovers and owners of small livestock, but in 2005, many New Orleans pets that were left behind in Hurricane Katrina had to fend for themselves. Figures put the number of animals that were killed or stranded at roughly 600,000. And it was a wake up call for rescue organizations across the country.

At that time, official disaster response organizations had no provision for the evacuation of pets along with their families. Those who decided to stay behind and ride out the storm at their own peril often did so precisely because they couldn’t bring their animals with them to shelters.

Fortunately, times have changed. The American Red Cross has been allowing people displaced by storms, floods and fire to bring their pets with them, even setting up “shelters within shelters.” The trending philosophy is that if it’s not safe for you to stay in your home during an emergency, it’s not safe for your pets either. Animal rescue organizations stress the importance of advance planning for pets during evacuations - bring food, medication, leash and a crate.

So when one Highgate resident had to leave her house to seek shelter for the second time in two months, she gratefully brought with her, her small black and white pooch. Unfazed by its owner’s concerns about disruption and damage, the tail wagging evacuee made itself at home among the gathering of displaced residents and Red Cross volunteers.

Safe and sound.

Mary McCallum is a freelance writer and former prison librarian who now works with Vermont elders.
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