Emergency plan now includes animals

Sun staff

The plan that guides Florida through its emergencies is written in pencil, according to Joe Myers, the state's emergency manager, whose job it is to implement it.

``It's like a living document,'' he said.

The best proof of that is that the 16-part plan, created after Andrew, has been modified dozens of times. The biggest change was the addition of section 17 -- on what to do with animals. Not yet officially adopted by the state, Emergency-support Function 17 (ESF 17) is becoming a big part of emergency plans in the region.

``It's a big need in certain communities,'' Myers said. ``In Marion County, with all their horses, it's an official part of the plan.''

The same is true in Alachua County.

``It's been in our plan since right after Andrew -- even before the state plan was done,'' said Craig Fugate, Alachua County's emergency manager. ``We're now getting the ability to implement it.''

There were three major problems in dealing with animals during and after Andrew.

Evacuees can't take pets to shelters. That puts many people in the position of choosing between staying in a dangerous area or abandoning their animals. Also, officials had the problem of dealing with hundreds of dead animals and thousands of abandoned pets. And there was the question about other animals on the loose.

When employees at Miami Metrozoo went back to work after the hurricane, they went with guns. The storm had destroyed many of the zoo's structures, and employees were not certain if they were going to meet dangerous animals roaming free.

``There was no plan,'' said John Snyder, director of Alachua County Animal Services. ``It was helter-skelter.''

Myers said ESF 17 is coming about in a different fashion than the rest of the plan.

``Since each area is pretty unique, it's filtering up to the state. Right now, it's optional for each local government.''

In Alachua County, the person behind the plan is Amy Suarez, the field supervisor at Alachua County Animal Services.

She's working with the American Red Cross and the Alachua County School Board to try to come up with some shelters where people can take their pets. All of the primary shelters are school board facilities. While those issues get worked out, Suarez has compiled a list of hotels that will allow pets to accompany owners in an emergency, and kennels that will keep pets during an emergency.

She also is promoting the idea of a disaster pack for people who have pets. Prepared and ready to take at a moment's notice is a pack that includes identification, a leash, two weeks worth of food, medication, newspapers, trash bags, brushes, combs, hygiene items, toys, a manual can opener and a photo of the pet.

For abandoned animals, Snyder says his office is prepared to make the only decision that makes sense.

``In the face of an emergency, we would probably destroy all the unowned animals we have and others who have met the time limit, to accommodate strays and to help people who need a place to house their animals. We can be aggressive on euthanasia if we have to.''

Animal services has to hold animals for at least three working days before they can be euthanized.


Public shelters do not take pets. Here is a list of hotels that will let you bring pets with you in an emergency and kennels that will house your pets.