CART volunteers plan to protect pets in disasters

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This dog was rescued last year during Hurricane Sandy in the Wildwoods. submitted/file photo This dog was rescued last year during Hurricane Sandy in the Wildwoods. submitted/file photo

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE – A group of volunteers wants to make sure pets are safe in future emergencies.

The Cape May County Animal Response Team, also called CART, will help people shelter and care for their pets in a disaster or storm. The team organized Sept. 18 under the county Office of Emergency Management and is based on the principles developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Whatever it takes to keep the animals safe,” said Don Horvath, CART program manager. He is an animal lover, and he has a 7-year-old corgi name Roper.

When people are told to evacuate their homes in an emergency, usually the first question they ask is if they can bring their pet, said West Cape May Fire Chief Chuck McPherson.

“They don’t want to get separated,” he said.

The last time people raised concerns of leaving animals behind were back-to-back blizzards that slammed the county a few years ago, he recalled. One official said there were no incidents reported during hurricanes Sandy and Irene of animals being left in harm’s way.

But how about the next big storm? That’s where the Animal Response Team comes in.

At first, members will focus on domestic animals. But in the future, he hopes the list will include feral animals, livestock and farm animals, said McPherson, who is a volunteer on the County Animal Response Team.

“The initial focus of the CART will be on domestic animals and the safe evacuation of pets during an emergency,” Cape May County Emergency Management Coordinator Martin L. Pagliughi said in a prepared statement. Pagliughi is also the emergency management coordinator and mayor for Avalon.

According to the FEMA website, first responders need training, and it is necessary for liability and safety.

CART hopes to be able to shelter about 250 animals and, eventually, as many as 500 animals. Members would operate the shelters for 72 hours and the team would maintain shelters for at least five days.

During Hurricane Sandy last fall, people were able to bring their pets to a county shelter, according to Horvath. The storm brought severe flooding, high winds and power outages and the barrier islands and bayside communities were evacuated.

The county already has the resources in place for animals. There is an emergency evacuation trailer, and pet carriers will be installed by the Cape May County Technical High School inside a remodeled office trailer. Pets will also be able to be sheltered in Avalon’s emergency evacuation shelter that includes cages, climate control, a veterinary workstation, running water and lighting.

McPherson is hoping to establish a shelter that pets can be taken to for those in Cape May, West Cape May and Cape May Point.

He said he looks after about 15 animals, including strays.

“Federal and state laws require New Jersey counties to plan for and support the needs of animals and individuals with animals during an emergency,” reads an announcement from the county.

On Sept. 18, the Animal Response Team was organized at the county Emergency Management Office in Cape May Court House that included emergency responders, animal care providers, animal control representatives, shelter personnel and other volunteers.  

CART has a meeting scheduled Saturday, Oct. 19, starting at 9 a.m. at the Fire Academy at the Cape May County Public Safety Training Center at 171 Crest Haven Road, Cape May Court House.

More people are welcome to join the team, particularly veterinarians, kennel attendants and veterinarian technicians and assistants.

Additional information or to volunteer, contact Horvath at 463-6570.

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