How to truly help animals in natural disasters, Mary Cummins, Animal Advocates

Helping animals in a natural disaster the right way

When we see animals needing help in natural disasters we of course all want to help. Some want to donate money and supplies. Others want to help rescue animals directly in the disaster zone. Unfortunately scammers try to take advantage of people wanting to help animals by asking for donations which don’t end up helping animals. It’s also not a good idea for a regular member of the public to just enter a disaster zone, break into someone’s home and take animals. Disaster areas are dangerous places with downed power lines, snakes displaced by flooding and dangerous structures made unsafe by earthquakes. As the animal owner you’d also want to be sure to get your pet back and not have your valuables stolen. 

This article is about how you can truly help your animals and others after a natural disaster. 

All cities and states have emergency response teams and plans in place. Local communities also have volunteer CERT teams which have been properly trained to help in an emergency. You can join a local CERT team before the next natural disaster to be properly prepared. Here’s a link.
If the city or state needs outside help, they will contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA  FEMA works with a group of approved private organizations who have the proper experience, training and have been vetted. Currently they work with the Humane Society of the United States, Red Cross and other groups. 
Everyone learned a lot after natural disaster Katrina. Katrina is the reason I got involved in disaster animal rescue. In 2006 NARSC was formed so private animal rescue groups such as HSUS, ASPCA, American Red Cross, AVA, Best Friends, PetSmart, Petfinder…could work with local government to assist in animal rescue when needed for natural disasters, large animal raids and such. Here is their website You can see the members in the link on that page. 
If you want to donate money and/or supplies, contact those approved groups and ask them what they specifically need. Don’t just drive over there and drop off plastic animal crates. They may only use metal crates. They may not even want any crates and may only need animal food and money to buy supplies near the location. 
Private individuals can also volunteer with these approved rescue groups. They will then go through proper FEMA training and other animal rescue training. Members for specialized teams such as large animal rescue, swift water flood rescue, wildlife rescue, domestic animal rescue generally have years of experience and training. This is why you should join these groups before the next disaster.
A private person or regular animal rescue group should not enter a disaster zone unless asked or approved by the city, state, FEMA or other FEMA approved organizations. Again, disaster areas are very dangerous. Sometimes zoo animals are freed in floods and earthquakes. Animals needing rescue can sometimes be very frightened and bite people. Proper training and tools are required.
Another reason why people should not just go to the natural disaster is the limited resources available after a natural disaster. If you just drive to a tornado area, take one of the few hotel rooms, buy the last few bottles of clean water and food, emergency responders who are allowed in the disaster zone won’t have those resources. You won’t be allowed in the disaster zone to help anyway. After Katrina some private people drove to the area and did just that. There was no potable water or places to sleep for the FEMA rescuers. This does not help the situation. It makes things worse.
What if you are the person in the disaster area and need help with your pet? The most important thing is to have a plan in place ahead of time. Here’s a short FEMA video on making a plan and preparing a kit for your animals. You will need proper ID of your pet that links him to you, food, water, medications, collar, leash, carrier, bedding… You should make your plan according to the natural disasters in your area. Where I live it’s fire, flooding and earthquakes. We don’t get tornados, tsunamis or hurricaines. Prepare accordingly.
The most important thing about dealing with natural disasters is to have a plan ready before the disaster hits. You need a plan for you and your animals if you are in the disaster zone. If you are outside of the disaster zone, you should be prepared to properly help animals by becoming part of an approved and trained animal rescue team. I got into disaster animal rescue after our local California fires. After Katrina is when I joined the HSUS NDART team which is now the Animal Cruelty, Rescue and Response Team. Here’s a great website from FEMA to prepare for the next disaster.
Rescuing animals after a natural disaster the right way
Mary Cummins of Animal Advocates is a wildlife rehabilitator licensed by the California Department of Fish and Game and the USDA. Mary Cummins is also a licensed real estate appraiser in Los Angeles, California.


About Mary Cummins Animal Advocates Real Estate Appraiser

Mary Cummins is President of Animal Advocates. She is licensed with the California Department of Fish & Game, USDA and the City of Los Angeles to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife. Cummins speaks to local community groups and students about respecting wildlife and humane wildlife control. She is also a Humane Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator. She has written manuals on small mammal rehabilitation besides numerous articles. She was born and raised in Southern California. She attended Beverly Hills Good Shepherd Catholic School and Beverly Hills High School. Besides being a member of Junior Mensa and on the Dean's list, she was a top ten national swimmer and competed on the men's water polo team. She began college at the age of 15 attending the University of Southern California on scholarship, majoring in Psychology/Sociology. After college Cummins became a licensed real estate agent specializing in income property in Los Angeles. She obtained her real estate appraisal license, real estate brokerage license and currently does real estate consulting, expert witness testimony and review appraisals at Cummins Real Estate Services.
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