Courtesy photo Jessica Henry, Allen County SPCA executive director, greets a stray dog brought to a temporary shelter in Houston last week. Henry, who spent four days volunteering at the shelter, said the dog will be placed for adoption through Players for Pits, a rescue organization founded by professional athletes.
Tuesday, September 12, 2017 1:00 am
Chip in for your pet
Simple step proves vital in times of crisis
Come hell or high water? It was more like hell and high water. I've just returned from four days in Houston, assisting with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, and in the hours since my homecoming, I've been thinking about what I would do – what we all should do – with our animals in the event of a natural disaster. Of course, we here in the heartland needn't worry too much about gale-force winds, and storm surge isn't in our daily vernacular, but disasters happen. House and apartment complex fires happen. Tornadoes happen. And floods? Yes, we know all about floods.
Right now, all over southeast Texas, temporary shelters for humans and animals are operating day and night. Some shelters allow for people and their pets to stay together, but many more shelters are housing pets who are lost or whose families sought higher ground and for one reason or another, left them behind. It's easy to say that we'd never leave our animals under any circumstance, but the reality is that for many people, getting themselves and their children to safety is a priority, and the pets come second or last – or never. That's just the way it is.
Fortunately, animal shelters and animal welfare organizations are there on the ground to help. In Texas, I worked alongside the Montgomery County Animal Shelter, the American Humane Society and Best Friends Animal Society (plus hundreds of volunteers) to care for more than 500 animals displaced by the storm. Our shelter, set up at the local fairgrounds, was deemed a “rescue and reunite” center, focused on helping those many pets find their families. One wing of the building was reserved for dogs and cats whose families knew their whereabouts because they, themselves, were at a human shelter just across the parking lot.
But the vast majority of the animals were there just waiting for someone to claim them. The one overwhelming and disturbing fact was that virtually none of these cats and dogs was microchipped. In fact, I only can recall hearing one time, in the course of four days, “This one's got a chip!”
Microchips are the single most effective way to get your lost pet home. A microchip is the size of a grain of rice and is injected between an animal's shoulder blades. It's a virtually painless process that we at the Allen County SPCA provide to every adopted animal before it leaves the building. Pet owners register their chips with their contact information and an alternate contact number, too. This simple step (along with keeping the contact info current) is critical and is a guarantee that your pet will find his way home. Every veterinarian offers this service and Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control, HOPE for Animals and the Allen County SPCA offer low-cost chips, too. Most shelters and low- cost clinics will chip your pets for around $15.
As a director of an animal shelter, I know that if and when a disaster occurs, this community's shelters will work together the same way they are right now in Texas, bolstered by national organizations if, heaven forbid, the situation were devastating enough to merit that. But you, as a pet owner, can take one simple step to make that easier on us, easier on yourself and – most of all – easier on your pet. Microchip!
Make a plan. Have it at the ready. Ensure you have a disaster kit for everyone, including your microchipped pet. Your kit should include a crate, leash and collar with ID tags, food for seven days, potable water, your pet's medicines and copies of veterinary records. Have a few toys handy to keep your pet enriched should he be crated for an extended period of time. And, if you have to leave, take your pet with you. If you can't take your pet, find someone who can keep him. If you can't do that, drop off your pet at a safe, established shelter along with your contact information. Please don't wait until it's too late.
Finally, if you want to know how you can help flood-affected pets, adopt from your local humane society. All across this great country, we're working together to take in as many pets as possible from southern shelters. That allows those shelters to have open kennels in which to house their community's strays.
On my flight home from Hurricane Harvey, I was seated next to a woman from Miami who was fleeing Hurricane Irma. At her feet (OK, at my feet) was her dog, Max. She wasn't leaving without him. And though Max hogged the already-tight space in front of us, it was a small price to pay to know he was safe, and it gave me so much comfort to know that if I have to deploy to Florida to work again, Max won't be there. He'll be in Chicago, visiting relatives.
Jessica Henry is executive director of Allen County SPCA.