WASHINGTON – Doris Bester, 81, has been a pet owner for nearly 60 years, but in all that time the University Park resident has never had to think about what would happen to her pets if she had to evacuate.
But emergency management officials say people should think about their pets as Hurricane Isabel bears down on the area: Most shelters do not allow animals because of health and sanitary concerns, encouraging pet owners to find other safe accommodations for their pets.
“I doubt if very many people think of it,” said Bester, who now owns five Shetland sheepdogs — Penny, Alec, Fiddle, Banjo and Cinder. Bester does not think many pet owners are aware of most shelters’ policies prohibiting pets, who for some are like family.
“I’d try to find a boarding kennel someplace I suppose,” Bester said. “You should always have a good boarding kennel in mind.”
Ruth L. Tyler, spokeswoman for the Central Maryland Chapter of the American Red Cross, said shelters are “usually . . . not conducive for pets.”
Local Red Cross shelters’ pet policies differ from some other states. Paul Miller, the executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County, worked for 12 years in California, where he said shelters had “a human area, and we usually had another area for pets.”
Miller, who sat on a California governor’s task force developing a disaster plan for animals, said that if people must leave their pets behind, they should not tie them up, confine them to a crate or cage, or isolate them in a room.
“If you have to leave something behind, you have to think about flooding,” Miller said. “You want them (pets) to have access to go up. And it’s actually better if they’re loose rather than confined.”
The Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals advises owners to keep photos of their pets and to have current I.D. tags. Owners should also prepare food and water, and have a leash, any medications and a blanket ready for their pets.
“It’s never reached a point where we’re located that we were evacuated,” said Aileen Gabby, executive director of the Maryland SPCA. “But in general the best thing that the pet owner can do is make sure the pets are inside . . . because they can get hurt, they can get lost, and it will be really hard to get them back.”
With a little advance planning, people can keep their pets out of danger and away from the evacuation area, according to the Maryland Emergency Management Agency’s Web site. Kennels are one option for displaced pet owners, but finding one with space can be hard on short notice.
Other possibilities include pet-friendly hotels, veterinary hospitals with boarding facilities and friends or family outside the evacuation area.
Chris Jackson, owner of Long Last Kennels in Owings Mills, said some of her customers canceled reservations for their pets for late this week and this weekend when the hurricane canceled their own plans.
But the kennel reservation “was filled immediately by someone who wants to go away for the weekend,” said Jackson, who has run the kennel for 23 years.
Jackson said her appointments for the end of the week include “no more than the usual bunch of people who want to get away for the weekend.”
“In all the weather situations I can ever remember, I have to say that no one has ever called me and said, ‘Can you board our pet because we don’t think he or she will be safe at home?'” Jackson said.