Bipartisan legislation authored by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH), Chairman and Ranking Member Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, to help protect pets and other animals during and in the aftermath of natural disasters and emergencies has been signed into law. The Planning for Animal Wellness (PAW) Act directs the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to establish an advisory group with outside experts to ensure that current FEMA guidance is aligned with best practices in animal care for disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. The new law was led through the House by U.S. Representative Dina Titus (D-NV-01).
“No one should have to risk their lives because they refuse to abandon beloved pets before a natural disaster,” said Senator Peters. “This new law will help make sure that FEMA and first responders in Michigan and across the nation can help protect every member of our families – even the ones with four legs and fur.”
“As a proud dog owner, it is concerning that animal and veterinary needs are often overlooked during disasters. I am pleased this bipartisan legislation is now law because it requires FEMA to establish a working group with outside experts to review current federal guidance regarding animals in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery to ensure it aligns with current best practices,” said Senator Portman. “This law will help ensure Ohio families and other animal owners have up-to-date guidance for disaster preparedness.”
“Pets are an essential part of our lives,” said Rep. Titus. “No one should be forced to make the impossible choice between leaving them behind or evacuating to safety in the event of an emergency. This law will empower first responders and federal disaster response workers to help pet owners plan to keep every member of their family, even the furry or feathered ones, safe. It will also help people find and reunite with their pets if separated. Disasters are stressful enough; people shouldn’t have to worry about also losing their cherished pets.”
Animal welfare is often overlooked during disaster response and recovery efforts, and in some instances, individuals have refused to evacuate before natural disasters because they do not want to abandon their pets. Following floods, wildfires, and hurricanes, the loss of household pets can take a significant emotional toll on pet owners, who often consider these animals to be a part of their families. In recent disaster events, FEMA and local emergency managers have relied on voluntary agencies and organizations to assist with both emergency veterinary services and relocation of thousands of evacuated and surrendered animals. While many of these pets and service animals were reunited with their families following the initial disaster, there are hundreds that were not.
The Planning for Animal Wellness (PAW) Act requires the FEMA Administrator to establish an advisory group to encourage and foster collaborative efforts among individuals and entities working to address the needs of animals in disaster preparedness. The working group will review current best practices and federal guidance on sheltering and evacuation planning for household pets, service and assistance animals, and other animals, as appropriate. If the Administrator, in consultation with the working group, finds that current federal guidance does not meet best practices, FEMA is required to publish updated guidance in consultation with the advisory group.
The senators’ bipartisan law has been endorsed by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Welfare Institute, the National Animal Care & Control Association, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the National Alliance of State Animal & Agricultural Emergency Programs, and the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition.
Below are statements in support of the senators’ bipartisan law:
“IFAW applauds Senators Peters and Portman for championing this important bill to establish a working group relating to best practices and federal guidance for pets and other captive animals before, during and following disasters,” said Shannon Walajtys, Director of the Disaster Response & Risk Reduction Program for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “Disasters are escalating in both frequency and severity, often devastating whole communities, and building resilience is key to protecting human and animal lives. Time and again we see people refuse to evacuate if they cannot bring their animals with them, including pets, livestock and captive animals in facilities. Furthermore, abandoned animals of all species in disaster areas can present unique challenges and dangers for first responders. This important new law will help to identify gaps and provide the guidance necessary to better protect animals before, during and following disasters, and the people who love them.”
“Americans consider pets to be our family and protecting the health and safety of animals in disasters is a matter of strong public interest. Approximately 70% of American households have pets, and past disasters have shown that failing to account for animals during times of crisis results in increased risk to human safety and compounds the psychological trauma suffered by those affected by the disaster,” said Sara Amundson, President of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “We are grateful to Senators Peters and Portman for their leadership seeking to ensure all pets as well as service animals and animals in zoos and other facilities are considered in disaster planning. As we face increasingly intense storms, wildfires and other crises due to climate change, it’s welcome news that Congress came together on a bipartisan basis and the President has now signed the PAW Act into law.”
“As we have just seen with the evacuations and rescues in Florida, every story on natural disasters, whether floods or fires or hurricanes, shows people fleeing with their pets,” said Nancy Blaney, Director of Government Affairs for the Animal Welfare Institute. “Senators Peters’ and Portman’s bill will make sure that the best information and resources are applied to the job of getting everyone out safely and together.”
“The National Animal Care & Control Association (NACA) realizes the value of the proposed Senate bill and endorses it entirely. Furthermore, NACA is appreciative of Senators Peters and Portman for introducing this vital bill and supports the formation of a working group to ensure prior to, during, and after devastating disasters, pets and the families who love them are protected,” said Jerrica Owen, Executive Director of the National Animal Care & Control Association. “Animal Control Officers are First Responders and are called upon in times of disaster to support rescue and recovery efforts. Preparations, and planning that includes pets as part of the family, support their efforts in ensuring safety for the whole family.”
“The ASPCA has witnessed firsthand how incorporating animals into disaster plans can prevent avoidable tragedy, most recently during our rescue efforts in response to Hurricane Ian. The Paw Act will go a long way toward protecting animals when crises like this threaten their lives,” said Matt Bershadker, ASPCA president and CEO. “We thank Senators Peters and Portman and Representatives Titus and DeFazio for championing this legislation, and President Biden for signing it, and look forward to working with the newly-created FEMA-led working group to establish best practices that enhance protections for vulnerable animals as well as people who risk their lives to save them.”
“The National Alliance of State Animal and Agricultural Emergency Programs (NASAAEP) and the National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition (NARSC) strongly endorse this legislation,” said Eric Thompson, NASAAEP President. “State, local, tribal, and territorial emergency managers work tirelessly every day to ensure the safety of the people in their communities during disasters and emergencies. They recognize that in order to safeguard people, they must also address the issues and needs of pets and other animals in their jurisdictions. We applaud Senators Peters and Portman for leading this important legislation, which will create an interdisciplinary Working Group with the potential to identify and address some long-standing barriers to effective animal emergency management. The number and severity of devastating disasters experienced in this country over the last several years has highlighted the need for additional coordination for disaster planning and management, and this legislation provides a key opportunity to better prepare for and manage animal issues in disasters.”
“This legislation will lead to greater coordination between all levels of government and the nongovernmental sector, where much of the nation’s professional animal expertise and response capabilities exist, to better protect both human and animal lives,” said Anne McCann, Chair-Elect of National Animal Rescue and Sheltering Coalition. “It has the potential to greatly reduce suffering and hardship in America before, during, and after natural disasters. NASAAEP and NARSC are both close partners with FEMA and USDA and are eager to see this legislation pass. We are grateful for Senators Peters and Portman for leading this effort.”
“We are so grateful for Senator Peters’ leadership on this important piece of legislation,” said Molly Tamulevich, Michigan State Director for the Humane Society of the United States. “Michiganders know that animals deserve to be considered in all emergency planning, from ice storms to tornadoes to floods. It’s no surprise that our Senator has reflected our state’s strong animal protection values by championing the PAW Act. By protecting animals during disasters, we are not only keeping our companions safe, but helping their families too.”