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A Haven for Pets When Disaster Hits

SALT LAKE CITY -- If a disaster strikes the state's northern region, pets won't be left behind.

Davis County Animal Services is the state's first government agency to set up a trailer equipped to house and care for up to 43 animals during an emergency. It is fully self-contained and equipped with individual compartments, water, power, heat, air conditioning and a drainage system.

When not in use during an emergency, the county is using the trailer as a mobile adoption center at local pet stores and safety fairs.

"We've used it a couple times," said Tracy Gross, cruelty investigator for Davis County Animal Services.

The agency received a $50,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to purchase the trailer, which will serve Cache, Davis, Box Elder and Morgan counties.

The money is available under federal legislation spurred by Hurricane Katrina, which left tens of thousands of pets homeless in 2005, according to statistics from the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reported in Los Angeles Times . As many as 104,000 pets were left behind after Katrina; about 15,000 were officially rescued.

One story in particular caught lawmakers' attention: the heart-rending separation of a little boy and his dog, Snowball.

According to The Associated Press, the little boy cried until he vomited after he was told he could not bring Snowball on a bus leaving New Orleans.

Many other residents of the beleaguered city refused to evacuate without their pets, which made the relief effort "really hard" on rescuers, Gross said.

In response, Congress passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, which became law in October 2006. The legislation allows FEMA to provide assistance to accommodate pets and service animals during disaster evacuations. It also requires state and local governments to include pet care in their emergency preparedness plans and provides funds to help establish pet-friendly emergency shelters.

In Utah, the Utah Emergency Animal Response Coalition, a nonprofit group created to aid animals during disasters and emergencies, also has a trailer.

Davis County Animal Services applied for a grant more than a year ago, and the money came through in May.

An incident that occurred just before the trailer's arrival highlighted the need to be prepared to assist residents with their pets in an emergency. Elderly residents of a group home had to be evacuated because of a fire.

"Every one of them had pets," Gross said. "If we'd had the trailer, we could have taken it there and housed the pets on site. We had to bring them here [to the shelter] and it was really traumatic for the owners to be separated from their pets."

And, she added, "These were older pets, so it was hard for them to be separated from their owners."

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