When disaster hits, sometimes tough decisions have to be made.
But thanks to a new program from James City County, whether or not you have to leave your pet behind is no longer one of those decisions.
“Everytime we have a disaster, there are people worrying about their animals,” said Sara Ruch, emergency manager for James City County. “There are people having to decide between going to a shelter and leaving their pets, or staying with them in a dangerous situation. And we didn’t want people to have to do that anymore.”
In conjunction with the City of Williamsburg, JCC is offering an Emergency Companion Pet Sheltering Course for interested volunteers. The course is offered thanks to a $35,000 grant from the State Homeland Security Program.
The two-day course will teach locals how to organize feeding, walking, and medicinal schedules for pets who come to a shelter during an emergency. By having volunteers with this training, Ruch said it allows the emergency shelter to offer a place for residents’ pets during a time of crisis.
A pet-friendly shelter is something new to the area but starting to gain popularity around the state, Ruch said.
In the past, Ruch has worked with Hampton and other cities during times when emergency shelters were open and she said she has seen people come in with turtles, cats, dogs and other animals with the hopes of keeping them safe.
“If we offer a space to come and shelter and bring your animal, we hope people would evacuate if asked to do so,” Ruch said. “It’s helpful for us to have this available as a resource.”
In an emergency shelter that houses pets, Ruch said there needs to be one section designated for the animals. The size of the area would be determined based on the amount of pets coming in.
That area would be blocked in, with tarp covering the ground to maintain cleanliness.
In the area, dogs, cats, turtles, and other domesticated animals can take refuge together. The determination of domesticated or non-domesticated is based on FEMA definitions which state the pet is generally kept in the household for pleasure rather than commercial reasons.
While that definition excludes reptiles, FEMA states that individuals can still bring their fish, frogs and other reptilian creatures to the shelter and staff should try to accommodate the pet as best as possible.
When residents bring their animals to the shelter, Ruch said they are expected to bring food and crates for them as well if they can.
“This significantly lessens the chance of pets getting sick from a sudden change in their diet along with being stressed since they are in a new location,” Ruch said.
With the new program, the county hopes to offer individuals the chance to protect themselves and their furry family members.
The course will be offered for free for residents and non-residents on Feb. 9 and 10 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Abraham Frink Community Center. To register, visit James City County online.