Pets now included in state disaster plan

Thursday, August 17th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Hundreds of pets were injured and displaced after the May 3, 1999, tornadoes that struck Oklahoma, and now an outline regarding their evacuation and treatment in future disasters is part of the state's disaster emergency plan, a state veterinarian said.

The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, in conjunction with federal agriculture officials and the Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association, developed the outline to better define the state's role in dealing with animals lost or injured during a disaster, said Carey Floyd, a veterinarian with the state Agriculture Department.

Plans are focused on developing similar guidelines at the county level, which Floyd called the most important part of the process.

"That's going to be our key, is getting the counties to do this," Floyd said. "They know who does what within the community."

Floyd said a September meeting is planned with Oklahoma's county emergency managers. She hopes they will establish county positions dealing only with disaster-stricken animals.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City Animal Shelter -- which found itself at the center of the animal recovery effort after the May 3 tornadoes -- has begun work on its disaster plan, said Dave Murdock, animal control manager.

The plan aims to assign responsibilities within that organization during a disaster, consolidate the recovery effort as well as to determine alternate sites to house displaced animals.

Such steps would have helped after the tornadoes, where only about a third of the more than 200 pets brought to the shelter after the storms were ever returned to their owners, said shelter volunteer Kim Schlittler.

"It was a mess," Schlittler said. "If anyone wants to see how not to handle (pets in) a disaster they need to look at Oklahoma City. And I hate to say that."

Schlittler worked a hot line after the tornadoes where people could call about lost or found pets. She cited difficulties in matching pets to descriptions given over the phone, the lack of a central evacuation site and an inability to effectively treat animals injured in the tornadoes.

After the disaster, pets were housed in veterinary clinics and even homes throughout the Oklahoma City area, making some relocation efforts all but impossible, Schlittler said.

Taking the state's plan to the county level would establish better coordination among veterinary offices and animal shelters, hopefully making it easier for people to find lost pets, said Dr.

John Otto, a Norman veterinarian.

"It's going to be a coordinated effort and there's going to be a lot more dialogue," Otto said. "Before everyone was operating like an island without a great deal of communication. We're going to try and dispense that better."

Otto visited the Oklahoma City Animal Shelter in the weeks after the tornadoes and found animals in cramped conditions, suffering from kennel cough, diarrhea and pneumonia.

He said the approximately 130 pets that weren't claimed were moved into foster homes about three weeks after the tornadoes, where many remain.

Despite the hardships in the effort, Otto said he thought the shelter responded "reasonably well" to the disaster.

"It's so hard because you have so many animals displaced and you just can't fully prepare for that," Otto said.

Floyd acknowledged a better job should have been done following the tornadoes, including having a single phone number to call for lost pets and having a list of pet foster homes in place.

But she defended the efforts of animal welfare officials after the tornadoes and vowed they would be better prepared for such an emergency in the future.

"Until you get in the middle of it, you just never know," she said.