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Old 17 Jul 2006, 02:23 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Officials work out pet plans

State, local agencies map animal evacuation procedures

By WILL SENTELL
Capitol News Bureau
Published: Jul 17, 2006



State and local officials have begun setting up Louisiana ’s new pet evacuation plan, required by a new law enacted to avoid problems that erupted when Hurricane Katrina struck last year.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed the bill into law on June 23. It won final House approval 93-0 and cleared the Senate 34-0.

The law is thought to be the first of its kind in the United States. It applies to cats, dogs and other domesticated animals normally maintained on the property of the owner.

Efforts were already under way to improve pet evacuations before the law was enacted. The new rules will help that push, officials said, but major work remains to be done.

“I am greatly worried about the evacuation of pets from New Orleans,” said Laura Maloney, executive director of the Louisiana branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“We have many unfilled needs,” Maloney said. “We have lots of shortages.”

What spurred the law were pet evacuation problems during and after Katrina that resulted in the deaths of thousands of cats and dogs. In some cases pet owners endangered their own lives by refusing to abandon their companions.

The measures require the governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness and their parish counterparts to devise humane ways to evacuate and shelter cats and dogs during hurricanes.

Under the legislation, service animals and their owners are supposed to be evacuated together. Household pets in carriers and cages will be allowed to use public transportation if it does not endanger human life.

State and parish emergency officials are supposed to find animal shelters and draft the rules, including minimum care, space, hygiene and medical needs. They are also to coordinate an identification system so pets and their owners who are separated during storms can be reunited, which was a major problem after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Sen. Clo Fontenot, R-Livingston and sponsor of the bill, said some parish emergency officials have already met with their state counterparts to see what they need to do to comply with the new law. The measure, which began as mostly a state-run effort, is now more of a collaborative effort between state and local leaders.

“That seems to be working out very well,” Fontenot said.

Parish officials like having a major role in shelters and other issues, he said, “without the outside inference of Big Brother,” a reference to state leaders.

Improvements under way before the new law, and changes in the legislation, should make a difference during hurricane evacuations this year, he said.

“Will it go completely glitch free? I don’t think so. I think we have major glitches.

“But at least that process has been started,” he said of improvements.

Fontenot said about 6,000 pet carriers were donated to the SPCA in

New Orleans

, which accounts for about 80 percent of the pets there.

Maloney said that, unlike last year, pet owners will know where to find evacuation shelters. She noted that, under the new law, representatives of animal agencies will have a seat at the table during pet evacuation planning.

For instance, Maloney was among those invited to a gathering of state, local and federal officials Thursday at the state Department of Agriculture, which has a major role in carrying out the new law.

State agriculture officials have asked operators of animal shelters, humane societies, veterinary offices, kennels, grooming facilities and other sites for copies of their evacuation plans, which are due by July 31. That is one of the requirements of the new law. Those plans will also be made available at parish emergency offices.

Costs of the new law and how it will be financed have been an issue. State budget officials put the price tag at $5.6 million for shelters, transportation and expenses. The bill depends in part on how many evacuations take place each year.

Fontenot said the state’s new, $150 million hurricane emergency fund is the most likely source for the financing.

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What surprises me is not that this passed, I had anticipated that from Louisiana's legislature, but that it passed both houses unanimously. We are the poorest state in the union and they want to throw money away on people's pets! If my representatives weren't leaving due to recently implemented term limits, you can bet I'd vote against them based primarily on this bill.
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Old 17 Jul 2006, 02:26 PM   #2 (permalink)
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