Officials in Butte County are dealing with fire evacuees' pets in a new way, one that UC Davis veterinary personnel helped arrange and which they see as mutually beneficial for dogs and cats and their owners.
"It's a new concept, to co-locate animal shelters and people shelters," said Tracey Stevens-Martin, explaining how people are more apt to evacuate as ordered if they know they will be housed in close proximity to their pets.
Stevens-Martin is part of the School of Veterinary Medicine, where she is working with Professor John Madigan to establish the International Animal Welfare Training Institute.
Stevens-Martin arrived in the Butte County fire zone on June 27, as part of UC Davis' Veterinary Emergency Response Team, and soon found herself appointed by fire commanders as the liaison between animal welfare interests and the emergency operations center.
This focus on animal welfare is another new component of emergency response, said Stevens-Martin, explaining her role in securing resources for improved operation of animal shelters.
No animal left behind
The impetus for all this new interest in pets is federal and state legislation that declares, in effect, that no animal shall be left behind in an emergency.
"The whole goal is the safety of people and their animals, to get them out of harm's way," Stevens-Martin said. And, with people and pets out of danger, emergency personnel need not risk their lives to go in and make rescues as flames or floodwaters get closer.
To go along with this new emphasis on pet evacuations, authorities also are taking steps to keep the animals with their owners.
"It's so much better for the animals, to see their owners, to get out more for exercise, and to be cared for by their owners," said John Madigan, a UC Davis professor of veterinary medicine and director of the Veterinary Emergency Response Team.
He described the Las Plumas High set-up, organized with Stevens-Martin's help, as "a major development" in pet welfare.
Stevens-Martin emphasized that "co-locating" is not "co-mingling." The American Red Cross does not normally allow the latter, whereby people and pets stay together in the same shelter. "Co-locating" puts an animal shelter near a people shelter, so pet owners can visit their animals.
"Animals play a very important role in people's lives," she said. "They are more than companions. They help people deal with emotional distress, they show compassion, they offer security."
And, she said: "They allow people to focus their energies on something positive and good."