Emergency Shelter for Pets and Owners in the Works

WILMINGTON -- When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, dozens of pets were rescued and brought to a shelter set up at Carolina Canines in Wilmington, as well as similar organizations.

But many more were left behind. Rescuers did not have the time or resources to help them, outraging pet owners.

"It really showed us where American values on animals are, and it's higher than expected," said Rick Hairston of Carolina Canines. "Now we have the outcry of we need to take care of them as well as the human family members.'"

Now President Bush is responding to that outcry, signing the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act into law. It requires cities and states to factor pets into emergency preparedness plans, or risk losing federal funding.

New Hanover County already has a pet plan in the works. Right now there are a number of place to take pets in the event of an emergency, but Jean McNeil with Animal Control said, it is time to take it to the next level.

"We wanted to do something even better by giving them a place to stay and co-locate with their pets."

By some estimates, one out of every four people killed in Hurricane Katrina was going back to rescue a pet.

"If they had a shelter available to them," Hairston said, "at least they would have the opportunity to utilize it and not put anyone in jeopardy."

New Hanover County's shelter is still in the planning stages, but it is expected to be ready to take in people and their pets in time for the 2007 hurricane season.  For safety reasons, humans and pets will be placed in separate areas of the shelter.

Reported by Sarah Warlick