Jason Ross isn’t sure what he and his family would have done if they hadn’t located the American Red Cross shelter that could accommodate pets. He didn’t want to think of leaving behind Coulton, their rescue boxer, and Coco, their Siamese cat.
Just weeks ago, Ross, his wife and 15-year-old daughter moved from Chattanooga, Tenn., to Toms River, N.J., and with the approach of Hurricane Sandy, they had nowhere to go but an evacuation shelter.
The Red Cross and its partner, the Ocean County Animal Response Team (CART), planned ahead for just such families, realizing that people consider their pets an integral part of the family.
“People do not leave their pets,” said Barbara Moser/Ward, volunteer CART supervisor. “Pets are their family.”
Kath West of Lanoka Harbor, N.J., is one such person. She and her husband heeded mandatory evacuation orders and arrived at the Red Cross shelter in Pine Belt Arena with Friskie, a mixed terrier, along with his crate, leash, food, bedding and vaccination records.
“You’re taking great care of us and our dog,” she said as she headed from her cot in the “people” dormitory to the canine dormitory in a separate room nearby.
Pet owners do a detailed registration, Moser/Ward explained. Humans, animals and crates/carriers get matching tags to ensure that pets are only handled by “their people.” Pet owners are responsible for feeding, exercising and cleaning up for their own animals.
But that’s no problem – people and animals give one another comfort in times of stress and Red Cross staff notice that pet owners are among the calmest of the shelter residents.
Nationwide, Red Cross chapters and animal welfare organizations ramped up their cooperative agreements in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which highlighted the importance of co-located shelters.
One of the first things fifteen-year-old Amber Berthe did after waking up from her second night in the shelter was head for the CART desk to check out her fuzzy white dog, Tara, and step out into the chilly morning air for her pet to do her “business.”
“She’s used to being by my side,” Amber said.
Breakfast time brought a steady stream of pet owners to reconnect with the 45 dogs, some 25 cats, a ferret, a rabbit, three birds – and three hermit crabs – that CART hosted overnight.
“Hurricane Irene was the first time we did this,” Moser/Ward said of the CART/Red Cross shelter operation. “That went well. This one (Hurricane Sandy) was a test, but I think we all passed,” she said with a smile.