Articles: Press Release
Prepared for Disaster? What about your animals?
Texas Animal Health Commission
Box l2966 *Austin, Texas 78711 *(800) 550-8242 * FAX (512) 719-0719
Terry Beals, DVM* Executive Director
Some gut-wrenching scenes are never forgotten. An elderly woman
clutches her cat as she waits to be rescued from her flood-ravaged
home. A dog clings desperately to a rooftop, inches from the rising
water, dead livestock float among the sodden logs or debris, or
half-buried animals struggle to escape from the mud.
"Whether it's a hurricane, flood, wildfire, or other natural or manmade
disaster--an animal evacuation plan can make the difference between
life, death, or tremendous suffering for pets and livestock," said Dr.
Mark Michalke, a field veterinarian for the Texas Animal Health
Commission (TAHC) and leader of the Evacuation Committee for the Texas
Emergency Response Team (TERT).
TERT was originally formed by the TAHC, the state's livestock health
regulatory agency, and Texas staff from the US Department of
Agriculture's Veterinary Services to address devastating foreign pests,
diseases, or bioterrorism On the governor's emergency management team,
TERT serves with the Texas Department of Health, in collaboration with
the Texas Veterinary Medical Association and other livestock and health
TERT members quickly recognized the need to address animal evacuation
in disasters, particularly after Texas' devastating October l998 flood,
in which more than 23,000 head of cattle drowned. Another 400 head of
hogs, sheep, equine and poultry also were killed in the violent storm
that struck 21 counties in south-central Texas.
"Most shelters will not accept pets, so it's important to know ahead of
time where animals can be housed," commented Dr. Michalke. He said
that, in addition to their normal duties, the eight - member evacuation
committee has worked nearly a year to develop a database of veterinary
practitioners, kennels, interested persons and organizations willing to
give animals safe haven during an emergency. The committee has
contacts for "cowboy help" to round up animals, and with livestock
"No one wants to leave their pets, horses or other stock to drown,
burn, or suffer in a natural or man-made disaster. Establish a
relationship with animal housing facilities outside your area before a
crisis and keep phone numbers and addresses handy," said Dr. Michalke.
"Calling ahead to reserve space also will increase your chances of
gaining space for your animals."
Dr. Michalke said an emergency evacuation kit for animals should be
maintained in an easily accessible place. Keep an adequate supply of
clean water and food, collars or bridles, leashes or leads, medicines
and health records--including proof of rabies vaccinations or for
equine, test documents for Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) or "Coggins."
If animals are evacuated, he said owners should carry several photos
of their animals to aid in identification, as pets may be shuffled from
one site to another during a chaotic situation.
"In the l998 flood, there was no clean water available for the animals
that survived the initial devastation. Livestock or pet food supplies
may be limited after disaster hits, so make certain your emergency kit
has plenty. If you have large animals, such as horses or other
livestock, plan an evacuation route," he said. "Leave early and allow
time for hauling. Don't wait until roads become congested or
impassable, as this will stress the animals."
Dr. Michalke said a number of livestock markets and fairgrounds have
agreed to serve as holding sites during an emergency. He noted that,
in the l998 flood, several of these facilities provided shelter for
livestock that survived being washed from their pastures. County
extension agents and TAHC livestock inspectors worked to match owners
with their strayed stock, using information provided by brands and ear
"Despite all planning, we will have to deal with strays, displaced and
dead animals after a disaster situation. TERT can assist with
identification, restraint and capture of animals, and disposing of
carcasses to protect public health," said Dr. Michalke. "These are the
skills we've developed for addressing a disease outbreak or
bioterrorism. With more than 45 million people and 2.5 million animals
traveling internationally each year, it's only a matter of time before
bacteria, viruses or pests will 'hitch a ride' into the U.S."
"Nine TAHC veterinarians and several USDA veterinarians in Texas are
trained as foreign animal disease diagnosticians, but it's the animal
owners who are the 'front lines' for recognizing threats," he said.
"Besides knowing how and where to move animals in a disaster, be aware
of and report potential signs of a foreign animal disease," Dr.
Michalke said. He advised owners to report any of the following
- sudden, unexplained death loss in a herd or flock
- severe illness affecting a high percentage of animals
- blistering around an animal's mouth, nose, teats or hooves
- unusual ticks or maggots
- staggering, falling or central nervous system disorders
exhibited by the animal.
"Call your veterinary practitioner first," he said. "Also notify the
nearest TAHC area office, the central headquarters in Austin at
1-800-550-8242, or the USDA in Austin at 512-916-5555." Dr. Michalke
said the TAHC and USDA does not charge to investigate possible animal
diseases or pests. Specimens and samples are collected and shipped to
state or federal laboratories.
"Immediate response is crucial in an outbreak," he said. "The first 24
hours are the most important for stopping a disease or pest 'dead in
its tracks' before it can spread. Millions of dollars could be lost
overnight in an outbreak, due to restricted trade opportunities, costs
for fighting disease and the loss of animals."
"In addition to its huge pet population, Texas ranks tops for the
nation in the production of cattle, sheep and goats, horses and exotic
hoofstock," he noted. "Furthermore, the state ranks sixth for poultry
production and 19th for swine. With billions of dollars, millions of
animals' lives, and thousands of industry jobs on the line, it pays
to be prepared to fight disasters, disease and pests."
Dr. Michalke said the TERT team is eager to share its information with
groups anywhere in the state. To book a TERT representative, call your
TAHC area office or the Austin headquarters at 1-800-550-8242.