Keeping Pets and Owners Together in Wake of the Ferguson Fire

Red Cross and CCADT shelter over 500 pets of wildfire evacuees

[Photo Credit: American Red Cross]

Fleeing from wildfires can be traumatic and having pets close has been proven to reduce stress and comfort owners driven from their homes by fire. This inspired Katrina Poitras, Central Valley Red Cross Disaster Program Manager, working with Naomi Slam at the Central California Animal Disaster Team (CCADT), to provide emergency pet shelter at select Red Cross shelters.

Evacuees won’t have to shelter separate from their pets, as the Red Cross tests out the new shelter model with pet shelters serving Madera, Mariposa, and Merced counties. Housing evacuees with their pets has been shown to lower stress level of humans and animals alike.

Pet owners staying at the shelter are responsible for the care and feeding of the pets cohabitating with them. CCADT CEO Naomi Slam recommends owners bring a few key items with them to the shelter: “Bring your pet’s carrier, ensure they’re up to date with vaccinations, and bring their preferred food… so there aren’t any upset tummies.”

The practice of cohabitating pets and owners in shelters was implemented at the Ferguson Fire’s New Life Christian Fellowship shelter and expanded upon moving to the Mariposa Elementary School shelter due to the increase in both shelter evacuee and pet populations.

Interviews with shelter residents confirmed the effectiveness of the new shelter plan and the calming effect of having personal pets in the same shelter with them.

The presence of pets also increased bonding among shelter residents and volunteers, and kept children occupied through playing with and learning about the various animals.

Learn more about general pet first aid during emergencies, plus how to plan for your pet before disaster strikes. Download the Red Cross Pet First Aid app for more tips.

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