Maryland creates program to rescue pets, farm animals during natural disasters

on the farm

October 15, 2006|By Ted Shelsby

As rescue workers saw during Hurricane Katrina, the bond between people and their pets can be a powerful one.

In many cases, people refused to be rescued from their homes and taken out of harm's way if it meant leaving their cat, dog or herd of farm animals behind.

Avoiding that scenario in the future was the impetus behind federal legislation signed this month by President Bush requiring states to establish plans for the evacuation of pets and farm animals as part of their emergency response procedures.

Officials at the Maryland Department of Agriculture say they have begun taking steps to comply with the measure.

Jacob Casper, a veterinarian and coordinator of disaster services at the MDA, is leading the effort. He said he hopes to have "bare-bones" volunteer state animal response teams (SART) in every county in six months to a year.

The teams would work with fire and rescue personnel to save pets and farm animals along with people.

In some cases, such operations would involve navigating a boat through fast-flowing floodwaters to retrieve a dog from a rooftop or moving a herd of heifers to higher ground before a hurricane strikes.

"We would like to have a system in place that if we knew of an impending disaster, such as a flood, we could move farm animals out to safe areas in advance," Casper said.

The department will hold a training session at the state fairgrounds in Timonium next spring on how to rescue horses, Casper said.

Subsequent sessions will address saving other farm animals, including cows, pigs, goats and chickens.

"We need volunteers, probably a hundred or more in every county," he said.

The program will require volunteers with a variety of skills who could be on call around the clock.

"We need people to run animal shelters," he said. "We need people to care for animals, to feed animals and to provide basic sanitation. We need people at the emergency operation centers to answer the telephones. We need people with swift-water training to rescue animals."

Each SART center also would have equipment including boats, front-end loaders, backhoes and trucks to transport animals.

Casper said that each center would need to locate animal shelters where pets and farm animals could be taken after being rescued. Animal cages and an assortment of foods need to be stockpiled.

Maryland's program will be patterned after North Carolina's plan, Casper said.

North Carolina began requiring county emergency plans to include the rescue of animals after Hurricane Floyd killed more than 3 million pets and farm animals in 1999.

The federal legislation was prompted by reports of pets being stranded last year during Katrina and the criticism of rescue agencies for its "no pets" policy.

Forty-four percent of the people who refused to evacuate their homes during Katrina said they didn't want to leave their pets, according to a survey released in April by the Fritz Institute, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization involved in humanitarian relief efforts.

"Some of those people died," Casper said.

Sixty-three percent of American homes have at least one pet, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Twelve states, including Pennsylvania, have SART programs. Five others - Louisiana, Texas, Kentucky, Michigan and Virginia - are in the process of developing plans.

Kate Wagner, a spokeswoman for the MDA, said anyone interested in volunteering for the program can contact the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association office at 410-931-3332.

Rain helps soybeans

Maryland grain farmers reported that last month's rain pumped new life into their soybean crops, but it came too late to help the corn.

Based on field conditions as of Oct. 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported last week that Maryland's soybean yield would be 35 bushels per acre this year.

That projection is an increase over the September estimate of 33 bushels per acre, but well below the 41 bushels the government forecasted in August.

"We had some big rains in July, and farmers were pretty optimistic about their soybeans," said Julia Klapproth, a statistician with the USDA's Maryland crop reporting service office in Annapolis. "But August was a hot, dry month and it took a toll on our soybean plants."

The latest estimate on the size of the Maryland corn crop comes about midway through the harvest season. It is forecasting yields of 140 bushels per acre.

Corn and soybeans are major crops in Maryland, with the bulk of the production destined to be made into chicken feed for the poultry industry.

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