Providing disaster relief fit for a dog

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

A disaster drill Tuesday brought out the National Guard, the American Red Cross, Toto and a few other furry volunteers.

Though most of the bipeds seems to know what they were doing, it was blond terrier Toto's first simulated emergency.

He was taking part in Cape Girardeau County Emergency Preparedness Team's planning exercise at Arena Park to help members simulate opening and maintaining emergency shelters for people with pets.

Cape Girardeau County is one of the few government institutions in the state that takes pets into consideration when planning emergency preparedness.

Attracting animals

But the underlying thought is to get people to safety following a disaster, said Charlotte Craig, director of the county health center. For some people, the only way to do that is to care for their pets, too.

"Sometimes you have individuals, often elderly, and the only family they have is a little dog or cat," Craig said. She said such people would be more likely to go to a shelter if they knew their dog was being cared for and that they would be able to pet it and walk it.

The cats and dogs brought in were photographed, tagged with a identifying collar and placed in pens when owners didn't bring their own.

The local Baptist Disaster Relief Kitchen provided lunch to about 100 people, and the dogs and cats on hand received dog treats. The Baptists set up a portable kitchen capable of cooking 3,000 meals a day.

Since it was chilly, Marilyn Neville, a dog trainer with Canine Companions, brought pictures of her dogs and an empty bird cage as part of the simulation.

Maryann McSpadden with the Sikeston Bootheel Humane Society brought her blond terrier, Toto, and three kittens.

"Since we're living in an earthquake zone, we're trying to learn as much as we can about the emergency management process," McSpadden said.

Mary Burton, executive director of the Red Cross' Southeast Missouri chapter, said in the past, the organization had problems with people who refused help because of their pets.

Health and liability issues prevent the Red Cross from welcoming pets into shelters.

Tuesday's exercise allowed volunteers to get experience setting up the special shelter's necessities from the ground up.

Few pets came

Volunteers to set up the emergency shelter were numerous, Burton said, but pets and their owners willing to act as victims were few, with about a dozen pets in all.

That wasn't surprising, she said, since the drill was held during the week. The main goal, she said, was getting everything set up quickly and efficiently in preparation for an influx of displaced people and pets.

"We need to be able to respond in as short amount of time as possible," Burton said. "The more you practice, the more prepared you'll be."

335-6611, extension 160

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