In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Snowball -- a small, white, fluffy dog -- was famously, and forcibly, separated from his young owner during the evacuation of the New Orleans Superdome. Of course, Snowball wasn't the only one.
After Katrina, Memphis Animal Services and the local Humane Society took in hundreds of animals rescued from flooded and abandoned homes in the Gulf. Now that most of those animals have been reunited with their owners or placed in foster care, city officials and pet rescue groups are thinking about what would happen to local animals if a major disaster were to hit Memphis.
"Sadly, it takes something bad to force everybody to come together and keep an interest," says Phil Snyder, director of Memphis Animal Services. "Even though Katrina did not happen in Memphis, people came here from the devastated areas and kind of forced the disaster on us. It was good training, and it certainly helps us to be more prepared for a disaster in our own area."
Memphis Animal Services hosted "Animals in Disaster: Working Within the System" last week at the Agricenter with about 60 attendees from various county and regional animal rescue groups, shelters, and emergency management offices. Speakers addressed issues such as preparing animal disaster kits and the importance of training for disaster rescue.
According Nina Wingfield, director of Collierville Animal Services, anyone rescuing animals in a disaster must have credentials from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA). TEMA offers an animal rescue training class, and once completed, volunteers receive a photo ID allowing them access to areas blocked off by the National Guard after a disaster.
"Many people helping after Katrina were not experienced in animal rescue," says Wingfield. "When volunteers started coming in and doing their own thing, people got bitten, and animals died."
Snyder says about 15 people in the county are currently certified through TEMA, but he would like to see more people take the course. Those who have completed training are forming a Disaster Animal Response Team, responsible not only for saving domestic pets but livestock and exotic animals.
In recent years, the Memphis Emergency Management Agency (EMA) has developed a disaster plan for local animals that includes shelters, crates, food, and leaving some roads open to transport livestock.
However, the EMA recommends that all county residents have personal disaster plans to care for themselves and their pets for up to a week after a disaster.
Since the EMA is involved in disaster plans for local animals, Snyder hopes Memphis won't see a repeat of the New Orleans situation where people were forced to leave their animals behind.
"The worst thing you can do is leave your pets behind," says Snyder. "You may think you'll be back in a day or two, but that may not happen. It's been proven that pets left behind are in greater danger."