Animal rescue group drawing up disaster blueprint

NASHUA – A statewide grass-roots group is working to ensure that communities have a response plan in place for animals great and small when a natural disaster or major local emergency strikes.

The New Hampshire Disaster Animal Response Team, or NH-DART, is still in a nascent stage of building name recognition, recruiting volunteers and soliciting donations, according to Executive Director Lora dePlante, of New Ipswich.

But NH-DART worked closely with local and state emergency response officials during the December ice storm, which crippled the state, in some cases for weeks.

Nineteen of the 61 shelters that were open for people during that disaster were pet-friendly, dePlante said.

“It was great to see everyone working together,” one volunteer said.

How to Help

NH-DART members were at the Lake Street Fire Station on Saturday explaining the group’s mission, which is “to promote communications, mentoring and resources development for an effective animal response prior to, during or after a disaster at all levels of government.”

About 15 people attended the session.

Not surprisingly, the importance of response plans for animals came to light after the Bush administration’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast in 2005.

Animal shelters there couldn’t care for the thousands of creatures left homeless by that catastrophe and many were shipped to facilities in other states, including New Hampshire, that did their best to care for them.

But many remained badly traumatized, requiring extensive and expensive care that made it impossible for some to be rehabilitated or adopted.

Out of the Katrina debacle came the federal PETS Act of 2006, which requires states to plan for the evacuation of pets, as well as people, during disasters in order to quality for Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursement funds.

Here, NH-DART was formed at the request of state veterinarian Steve Crawford, dePlante said. The group is now affiliated with teams in New Ipswich, Keene, Manchester, Laconia, Rochester and Goffstown. Several state departments and agencies are involved, as well, she said.

In Nashua, a team is being formed under transit manager Mark Sousa and emergency management director Rick Wood, she said.

NH-DART offers training to those interested in volunteering. The required first level includes FEMA introduction to incident command systems, national incident management, human CPR and first aid, animal sheltering, small-animal handling and emergency response training.

Other optional levels of training include large-animal handling, search and rescue and exotic-animal handling.

The group also offers tips on how to prepare for emergencies that can affect virtually every kind of creature, from hamsters to horses.

Myrtle St. Pierre, 79, of Greenville, had to evacuate her apartment to a Milford school during the ice storm. She had to leave her cat behind that time, but it won’t happen again, she said.

“Now, I keep my kitty carrier close by, like a piece of furniture,” St. Pierre said. “We have lots of fire drills in the building, and now I have the kitty in the carrier every time we have to get out.”