April 19, 2011; Source: Star Tribune | When some people hear news of a disaster — earthquake, hurricane, or flooding — their first thoughts aren’t only for the human victims, but for their pets too.  According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the “universe of disaster relief for animals” has been expanding over the past several years.  Much of that rising concern for animal welfare grew out of reactions to news reports during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster that showed “New Orleans residents refusing to leave their rooftops without their pet companions.” 

The impetus to rescue animals isn’t pure emotion, however.  In the wake of Katrina, Congress passed a law mandating that every state create an animal disaster rescue plan. Those states that don’t are ineligible to receive federal emergency disaster relief. 

In Minnesota, animal relief efforts are supported and coordinated by the Animal Disaster Coalition, a group of about 25 government agencies, humane societies and other nonprofits.  Currently the coalition keeps about $300,000 worth of cages, collars, food and other supplies in a warehouse in Minneapolis, which in the case of disaster, can be used care for about 500 animals. 

One of the better-known animal rescue groups, and which works internationally is Fargo, N.D.-based World VetsAfter the last month’s Japanese earthquake, the groupdispatched a first-responder team within 72 hours, says founder and veterinarian Cathy King. “We’ve shipped more than $100,000 in veterinary supplies, antibiotics, cages, IV fluids, cat food, dog food and thousands of leashes and collars.” According to the Tribune, more recently the group’s work has shifted from decontaminating animals from the destruction zones to finding the owners of the thousands of pets living in shelters. “We need to know, ‘Do they still have owners?”’ said King. “Are the owners still alive? They have a huge animal situation going on right now.”—Bruce Trachtenberg