New Jersey officials were already planning for the problem when Hurricane Katrina barreled into New Orleans six years ago.
The Gulf Coast disaster not only left countless people homeless but also killed or stranded hundreds of thousands of pets. Some residents refused to leave dogs, cats, and other animals - and died with them.
New Jersey hopes to fare better.
Using federal Department of Homeland Security funding, the state bought specially equipped Animal Disaster Response trailers and provided them to Burlington, Camden, Ocean, Hunterdon, Hudson, and Sussex Counties.
The units, also available to neighboring counties, contain wire crates, water and food bowls, fencing, medical supplies, and tents for setting up temporary animal shelters and veterinary clinics where pet owners are already hunkered down.
"Katrina was the turning point," said Manoel Tamassia New Jersey's acting state veterinarian. "People can't take their pets with them to shelters, so they'll take a chance and ride out hurricanes at home.
"Now, there's a place for those pets."
The trailers, purchased in 2006 and 2007, help state and county animal-response teams train for disasters. Some have been used in minor emergencies. Two-thirds of the state's 21 counties have organized teams of volunteers to coordinate animal evacuation and shelter plans, Tamassia said. Other counties are expected to follow.
This summer, at least one New Jersey resort community - Avalon, in Cape May County - is also taking on the pet issue. It's raising $30,000 to buy a large trailer, to be customized for keeping house pets. Officials expect to have it ready by about September.
Like New Jersey, Pennsylvania has organized state and county animal-response teams and positioned trailers across the commonwealth to set up shelters for pets and livestock.
The state's efforts are modeled after those in North Carolina, which formed the teams after the loss of hundreds of thousands of animals during Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency "tells us we lead the country," said Joel Hersh, executive director of Pennsylvania's State Animal Response Team. "We have trailers in 55 counties. Some counties have livestock trailers."
Using that experience, he has worked with other states "to jump-start their programs and helped them write for grants."
In New Jersey, with 1.7 million farm animals and millions of dogs and cats, "we can take care of small emergencies - like an apartment building fire where people and pets had to be evacuated," Tamassia said. "We're probably OK for small disasters in a county or municipality. But we don't have enough supplies to handle the evacuation of New York City."
If possible, residents should make arrangements for their animals in advance of an approaching storm, Tamassia said. "If you have a horse, put it in a trailer and take it away from the area" to be affected by the disaster, he said. "Do planning ahead of time.
"Find a boarding stable that won't be affected. And if you're going to a hotel with your dog, make sure it's pet-friendly."
In Avalon, officials have prepared for the evacuation of residents. They conducted a survey to determine how many full-time residents - especially seniors with medical issues - would have to be moved to a shelter.
They also contracted with the Cumberland County Technical Education Center, about 40 miles away, to provide shelter space.
Now they are focusing on the pets.
"People won't leave without them," said Mayor Martin Pagliughi, who is raising money to purchase a trailer. "The trailer would go with the pet owners to the vocational-technical school.
"My wife has two cats, and they'll go to the shelter before me," said Pagliughi, who is also the town's emergency management coordinator. "I have to stay."
Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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