The House Passes Critical Legislation To Protect Animals Impacted By Disasters; Bill Now Heads To The President’s Desk For Signature

Photos by the ASPCA

The Planning for Animal Wellness (PAW) Act, a bill aimed at encouraging collaborative relationships between government agencies and outside experts to incorporate pets into disaster planning, passed the House last week. The bill, which includes everything from preparedness, response, and recovery efforts, now moves to President Biden’s desk for his signature.

Passage of this legislation comes during National Preparedness Month and the five-year anniversaries of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, a string of devastating storms that displaced millions of people and their pets in 2017.

Sponsored by Representatives Dina Titus (D-NV) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH), this legislation would specifically require that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) establish a working group of experts to review current best practices for animals in emergencies and natural disasters, and if necessary, issue new guidance.

“Pet owners in Michigan and across the country should not have to make the difficult choice of taking care of their pets or getting to safety when disasters strike,” Senator Peters said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing the President sign this bipartisan bill into law so that all of our loved ones – even those with fur, feathers, or scales – can be safe during hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and other emergencies.”

A 2021 ASPCA survey revealed that 83% of current pet owners reported living in a community that is threatened by natural disasters. A lack of emergency resources can sometimes force people to make the unimaginable choice between evacuating or sheltering in place to stay with their animals. The PAW Act would help ensure that pets, captive animals, and service animals are considered in disaster planning and emergency response, so families do not have to choose between their own safety and the safety of their pet.

“We have seen firsthand how incorporating animals into disaster plans can prevent avoidable tragedy, making the PAW Act a critical measure to protect these animals and the people who risk their lives to save them,” stated Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President and CEO.

Since the inception of the ASPCA Disaster Response team in 2010, the ASPCA has responded to more than 65 disasters, assisting nearly 120,000 animals in impacted communities. During the catastrophic string of Hurricanes in 2017, including Harvey, Irma, and Maria, the ASPCA assisted nearly 36,000 animals across Texas, Florida, South Carolina, and St. Croix through evacuations, search and rescue, emergency sheltering, and pet food and supply distribution.

In addition to providing boots on the ground assistance in response to disasters, the ASPCA works closely with local agencies across the country to help enhance their animal response capabilities through grants and training opportunities. Over the last three years, the ASPCA has awarded more than two million dollars in grant funding to authorized disaster response agencies providing support to companion animals, equines, and their owners in communities impacted by or at high-risk of natural disasters. It also works with lawmakers to increase access to co-sheltering opportunities to keep people and pets together when they are displaced by natural or manmade disasters.

“I applaud the House of Representatives for passing the PAW Act, which will help meet the needs of pets and service animals affected by emergencies and disasters” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Chair Peter DeFazio. “By establishing a FEMA working group focused on addressing the needs of animals, especially during evacuation and sheltering, we will be more prepared for disasters and can deliver the adequate care and dignity that animals deserve.”

Learn more about incorporating pets into preparedness plans, HERE! 

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