By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
Two kitten siblings were rescued by HSUS in Texas after Hurricane Harvey forced a sudden and mandatory evacuation of the area. Anthony Rathbun / HSUS via AP Images
The past few years have shown how suddenly natural disasters and other emergencies can turn our lives upside down. Take, for example, the recent severe hurricanes and wildfires, the deep freeze in early 2021 in Texas, or the current global Covid-19 crisis. Families around the world have seen how crucial it is to have emergency plans in place for their loved ones.
Animal lovers have always recognized that not only humans need disaster preparedness plans, and in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina the rest of society understood. Less than a year after this disaster, Congress passed the PETS Act, requiring state and local response agencies receiving federal funds to institute emergency preparedness plans that take into account the needs of pets. company.
Unfortunately, more than fifteen years after Katrina, there is still no federal requirement for establishments regulated by the Animal Welfare Act to have such plans in place for the animals in their care. The increasing frequency and intensity of weather events due to climate change make the need even more urgent. In the event of a disaster, anything can happen to the animals in these facilities. When Hurricane Michael hit Florida in October 2018, two ZooWorld big cats died from the storm. The year before, during Hurricane Irma, two great kudu from another zoo died. When Hurricane Katrina hit an aquarium on the Gulf Coast, eight dolphins, 19 sea lions and a seal had to weather the storm on their own. Six sea lions died and the seal was gone forever.
The animal care centers run by the HSUS have long had emergency plans in place – it’s just the responsible thing to do. We’ve been encouraging the United States Department of Agriculture for years to require facilities regulated by animal welfare law to have contingency plans, and today the agency has taken a critical step toward getting there.
This comes after years of delay. In 2012, the USDA finalized regulations requiring all facilities regulated by the Animal Welfare Act, such as research facilities, puppy and kitten factories, and roadside zoos, have plans. emergency response by the end of July 2013 for animals in their care in the event of a disaster. But just two days after the facilities were supposed to have their plans in place, the agency abruptly decided to “stay” the rule, indefinitely delaying its implementation.
We have never stopped pushing for this common sense reform. We have raised the issue repeatedly with USDA officials, while working closely with allies in Congress on parallel tracks. We worked with the House Agriculture Committee to get a provision in the 2014 Farm Bill encouraging the agency to reinstate the rule, but the agency ignored the request. We strongly support the PREPARED Act (Providing Responsible Emergency Plans for Animals at Risk of Emerging Disasters), led by Representatives Dina Titus, D-Nev., And Rodney Davis, R-Ill. And thankfully, thanks to the leadership of the Chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Sanford Bishop, D-Ga. – who answered calls from Representative Titus and a bipartisan set of 207 representatives and 41 senators – the omnibus credit package signed in December 2020 set a timeline for the USDA to reconsider the effects of postponing its 2012 rule and consider implementing a disaster plan requirement for all entities regulated under the Animal Welfare Act. Today, the USDA followed this statutory directive by announcing a new rule proposal. This first step could result in the requirement of animal disaster plans at these facilities with regard to natural and human disaster situations. Now the public will have to take action to show their support for this rule.
With this proposal, the USDA is demonstrating that it also understands what animal advocates have long known, that animal disaster preparedness is good for everyone – animals, society, and regulated businesses. We commend Secretary Vilsack for his drive to push this rule forward, and it doesn’t happen too soon. Any further delay in this contingency planning requirement – as the threat of hurricanes, wildfires, droughts, tornadoes, pandemics and other disasters increases – exposes animals in facilities regulated by the ‘AWA at an increased risk of injury, suffering and death. (Unfortunately, because farm animals are not covered by the Animal Welfare Act, animals belonging to large-scale agriculture, including the meat industry, will not be included in the rule. We must give priority to another avenue to help these deserving animals.)
Now we need your help to bring this promising step forward for the animals to the finish line. Promoting disaster preparedness for facilities that keep animals for business or scientific reasons is an appropriate role for the USDA as a regulatory agency, and we hope you will join us in urging the government to move quickly. suspension of this rule and reinstate it. Track.
Sara Amundson is President of the Legislative Fund of The Humane Society.
Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly indicated where the big cats died. It was ZooWorld, not the Naples Zoo.
Animal rescue and care, public policy (legal / legislative)