Campus News Georgia Impact

UGA units partner to establish pet-friendly emergency shelters

EDITOR’S NOTE: There are no plans to open an emergency shleter at UGA for pets for 2016’s Hurricane Matthew.

When the threat of disaster forces evacuees to flee their homes, no one wants to leave a loved one behind—even if that family member is furry and walks on all fours.

That’s why UGA has established two shelters for evacuees in the event of a large-scale emergency—one for humans and the other for their pets.

In the case of a state emergency—like a hurricane on Georgia’s coast—residents could be sheltered at the Ramsey Student Center for Physical Activities facilitated by the American Red Cross.

Their pets could be dropped off for safe keeping at the UGA livestock instructional arena at South Milledge Avenue and Whitehall Road.

The shelter could hold up to 250 dogs and 150 cats, and also some “pocket” mammals like gerbils and rabbits, said Pete Golden, emergency operations coordinator for the Office of Security and Emergency Preparedness. 

Livestock, birds and reptiles are not permitted.

The pet-friendly shelter is part of a collaboration between OSEP, the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the College of Veterinary Medicine and the UGA Community Emergency Response Team, as well as other state agencies.

Animals would be looked after by faculty, students and vet techs associated with the veterinary college.

One of the reasons the arena works well for this project is because it provides ample space to separate cats from dogs and larger dogs from the smaller pets, said Tammy Cotton, who helped in the planning of the pet shelter and is part of the agriculture and food defense team for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The idea of emergency shelter for animals may be as old as Noah’s ark, but it’s only been in the years since Hurricane Katrina that states have been required to offer haven to evacuees’ pets as well as the owners.

In 2006, Congress passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Acts after dozens of stories of abandoned pets in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina surfaced. The bill requires states to account for pets and service animals in evacuation plans.

With hurricane season in full swing, Golden said the pet shelter is ready if needed after an August drill helped OSEP work out some kinks.

The drill used live actors and stuffed animals to simulate an influx of evacuees and their pets needing shelter. Volunteers practiced checking pets into and then out of the shelter. Golden said important lessons were learned from the drill.

“We’ll need to speed up the registration procedure,” he said, noting the need for simplicity.